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Welfare Systems, Support Networks and Subjective Well-Being Among Retired Persons

Author(s): Felix Requena


Source: Social Indicators Research, Vol. 99, No. 3 (December 2010), pp. 511-529
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40927609
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Soc Indie Res (2010) 99:51 1-529


DOI 1 0. 1 007/s 1 1 205-0 1 0-9596-5

Welfare Systems, Support Networks and Subjective


Well-Being Among Retired Persons
Felix Requena

Accepted: 1 March 2010/ Published online: 11 March 2010


Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Abstract In this article welfare systems and support networks are empirically analyzed to
determine which generate the highest level of subjective well-being among retired persons.
Propositions derived from support network theories and national welfare system typologies

have been analyzed using causal models that indicate the influence of the various welfare
systems and support networks on subjective well-being. The data was taken from the
Social Relations and Social Support Systems module of the 2001 International Social
Survey Program. The results indicate that liberal welfare systems generate the highest level
of subjective well-being. This correlates with a lower degree of confidence in the welfare

state, greater interpersonal trust and greater belief in individuals and their capacity to
secure their own well-being. In the sphere of material well-being the subjective well-being
of individuals is affected by a greater trust in people than in the state.

Keywords Subjective well-being Happiness Support networks Retirement


Welfare systems ISSP

1 Introduction

This article examines welfare systems and support networks to determine which type

generate the highest degree of subjective well-being among retired persons, and the main
differences vis--vis people who are still working. We will focus on the various welfar

models and how they are perceived, the different types of personal support networks and
the subjective well-being that these can generate in retirees and working persons.
There is no simple definition for retirement; it is an ambiguous concept and therefore

not easy to study. Retirement is a situation derived from transition within a complex
process of social integration (Moen et al. 2000), when a person shifts abruptly from on
situation to another, usually from employment to inactivity. In Western countries a person
F. Requena (0)
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Malaga,

Campus El Ejido, 29071 Malaga, Spain


e-mail: frequena@uma.es

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512

F.

may

Requena

be

considere
return
t

because
a
person
is

receivin

retired
(Ekerdt
a
ment:
when
an
in
status as retired.

As with all life transitions, the experience of retirement is improved if the person is
prepared for it (Havighurst 1954). Individuals reach retirement by different paths and
under diverse circumstances, and are thus affected by retirement in different ways. The
difference between urban and rural retirees provides an example of this (Dorfman and
Mertens 1990). A sufficient preparation for retirement increases well-being during this
stage of life.
During retirement a positive relationship is revealed between increased age and a
propensity to help and provide help for others. Support networks, personal networks or
individual ties with other people through various types of social relationships, can be
foundational for assisting in the transition to this new and often uncertain stage of the life
cycle. Numerous studies have pointed out the importance of personal networks for individual transitions and crisis management (Wellman et al. 1988; Wellman and Wortley
1990). The ties between people named in different personal networks inform about the
entire set of an individual's social networks (Schweizer et al. 1998).

Individuals form part of society through their contact with others. These contacts
constitute an individual's personal network, composed of all the others (alter) with whom a

person (ego) has a certain relationship. A significant portion of such networks involves
people who provide social support, which is positively correlated with psychological,

emotional and physical well-being, health and longevity (Thoits 1985; Sarason and
Sarason 1985; House et al. 1988; Lin and Ensel 1989). Personal support networks provide
assistance for dealing with anomalous situations and significantly impact an important set
of life circumstances, including the process of retirement. Consequently, we are interested
in understanding the nature of the support networks established by retirees.

2 Theory and Propositions


2.1 Well-Being and Social Support Networks
Numerous studies have demonstrated that well-being and social support are related to the

quality and social density of relationships (Vaux 1988; Wellman 1979; Liwak 1989; Liwak
and Szelenyi 1969; Kadushin 1966). If we also consider that an individual's degree of
happiness represents a certain state of emotional if not material well-being, and that an
individual's inter-personal environment influences both (Durkheim 2002), then by
deduction the degree of subjective well-being (or happiness) increases with the number of
people that constitute the immediate social context. This suggests that personal networks,
and specifically friendship networks, will affect an individual's degree of subjective wellbeing.
We will examine this causal relationship in regards to both working and retired persons,
with the understanding that subjective well-being during retirement is affected by support

networks. The social context, as measured by the networks to which we belong, should
have a considerable effect upon an individual's level of well-being during this critical
period.
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Welfare Systems and Subjective Well-Being Among Retired Persons 513

2.2 Social Welfare Regimes, Social Care and Subjective Well-Being

Welfare states offer protection from basic social risks such as unemployment, dis

sickness, old age and retirement. The typologies used to distinguish welfare system
created intense debate due to their importance and the difficulties in properly
categories. Diverse countries and their many significant particularities can be diff
express in ideal-type classifications. One of the most widely applied typologi
established by Esping-Andersen in his seminal work The Three Worlds of Welf
talism (1990). His approach is based on national levels of expenditure on social p
to help individuals or families maintain a socially acceptable standard of living
dent of market forces. Esping-Andersen defined three basic types of welfare stat
The liberal welfare regime is primarily defined by the market economy. The co
in this welfare regime are predominantly Anglo-Saxon: Australia, the United
Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and New Zealand.

In the social democratic welfare regime, which includes Norway, Sweden, Fin
Denmark, assistance is universal in nature, with a high level of egalitarianism

commitment to covering all types of risk: aging, retirement, sickness, disability,

model seeks to de-commodify welfare or even entirely sever it from any depen
market forces.

In the conservative welfare regime, compulsory social security is complemented by ad


hoc retirement plans for the social strata that lack a 'normal' labor status, making welfare

provision by the market a marginal feature. This group is composed of Continental


Western European countries such as Austria, Belgium, France and Germany (EspingAndersen 1990).

The Esping-Andersen classification is one-dimensional, which is perceived by many


authors to be one of its main weaknesses (Bonoli 1997; Ferrera 1996; Sainsbury 1994,
1996). They point to countries such as those of Southern Europe, where the role of the
family and other informal networks is very important, and emphasize the central social
support role of certain actors, such as women as providers of social care. Esping-Andersen
(1999) re-examined these three capitalist welfare worlds in a later work and suggested the
existence of three other 'worlds' that would correspond to the Antipodes, the Mediterranean and East Asia. However, these models were established as sub-groups of the three
original types.

The Esping-Andersen typology has been subject to important criticism. Hoff (2006)
points out its serious weaknesses, identifying four main points as missing or inadequately
addressed. The first is methodological and refers to the extensive use of aggregate welfare

state expenditures and mean scores, the emphasis on cash benefits and the omission of
social services. Secondly, Esping-Andersen was criticized for ignoring the cultural factors
that can help to explain the differences between countries, in particular the combination of

both the cultural and gender critiques. A third critique is that Esping-Andersen has not
given sufficient attention to the reasons that support establishing more than three broad
welfare state regime types. Finally, in the context of this article, he has assumed a labor
market perspective that ignores the social position of gender differences and of family and

personal networks in welfare production. An important issue for our study is how these
typologies marginalize the family and the informal perspective.
We are interested in categorizing countries into the broader welfare regimes, while also
looking at the impact of formal and informal support systems.

Informal support networks play a very important role in transition processes such as

divorce, widowhood or retirement (Raeymaeckers et al. 2008). In retirement good


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514

F.

Requena

coverage
system

is

and

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informal

An

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Focusing
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subjective
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situation
of
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whether
this
ma
which is a measure of satisfaction in life.

Harrison (1992, 2000) indicated that perception of the social structure is crucial to
generating development in a society; so it is very important to have among the members of
society a social will that favors development. This is reflected in the well-known Thomas

theorem: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences" (Merton
1968). Likewise, we think that trust in the welfare state and in people is important in
determining the degree of subjective well-being that a welfare system may provide. In light

of this, we will articulate a model capable of explaining the influence of perceptions of


welfare systems, personal support networks (family and friends) and the various welfare
systems on subjective well-being.
1 Obviously another group could be added, composed of the countries that do not form part of the prior
groups.

<) Springer

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Welfare Systems and Subjective Well-Being Among Retired Persons 515

Different societies generate different perceptions of reality, which leads to dif

in subjective well-being. Thus, a comparison of the various welfare systems shows

ways of addressing the material needs of people in crisis situations. These ap

create varied perceptions of subjective well-being, which in turn generate varied s

of subjective well-being in people. We will follow comparative models similar t


established by Lee et al. (2005) and Hollinger and Haller (1990), assuming that th
subjective well-being will vary according to support networks and welfare system

3 Data and Variables

All data are taken from the Social Relations and Support Systems Survey,2 whic
carried out in 2001 by the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). The ISSP
continuing annual program of cross-national collaboration of surveys, covering
important to social science research. The ISSP module fits our study nicely bec

includes comparable indicators regarding the support networks of different countri

the 30 countries included in the 2001 ISSP module, only those containing data in
variables needed for our analysis have been selected: Spain, Germany,3 Great B
Northern Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Pola
United States, Canada and Australia. These countries span the welfare systems we
this study.

The total weighting has been normalized to ensure that the sample distributions of the
different countries are adjusted according to the known population distributions of each
country (sex, age, region). Internal weighting for each specific country is provided in the
ISSP data and codebook. The ISSP data samples are representative of the population of
each country (Klein and Harkness 2001; Scholz et al. 2003).
National samples correspond to individuals of both sexes over 18 years of age. We have
only used data for occupied or retired persons. The total sample size was 12,601 people,
(9,043 occupied and 3,558 retired persons) and the samples vary from a minimum of 724
for Great Britain to a maximum of 1,183 in the case of Norway. The countries included in
this study are not a representative sample because participation in the ISSP involved
differing criteria of representativeness from one country to another and only those countries providing information about the variables necessary for our analysis were selected
(Table 1).

3.1 Independent Variables


3.1.1 Welfare Systems
These are dummy variables indicating that a country belongs to one of the welfare systems

mentioned in the prior section: Mediterranean (Spain), Continental Western European/


conservative (Germany), liberal (Northern Ireland, Great Britain, United States, Canada
2 The survey data used in this article were documented and made available by the Central Archive for
Empirical Social Research at the University of Cologne. The data for the 'ISSP' were collected by independent institutions in each country. Neither the original data collectors nor the Central Archive bear any

responsibility for the analyses or interpretation herein. Additional information is available at:

http://www.issp.org/.

Although at the time of the survey East and West Germany were two separate states, today they are one
country and have been aggregated as Germany in our analysis.

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516

F.

Requena

Table 1 Structure of the

Occupied Retired Total

samples
Country

Spain

545

206

751

Germany 730 303 1,033

Norway

974

209

Denmark

804

Finland

759

1,183

250

1,054

175

934

Northern Ireland 610 321 931

Great

Britain

USA

767

Canada

530

194

162

678

724

929

224

902

Australia

716

433

1,149

Hungary

684

416

1,100

Czech Rep. 720 228 948


Poland

527

Welfare

437

964

system

Mediterranean

545

206

751

Continental western EU-conservative 730 303 1,033

Social democratic 2,537 634 3,171


Liberal

3,301

1,334

4,635

Eastern-EU 1,930 1,081 3,011


Source ISSP 2001, author's own
elaboration

Total

and Australia),
(Poland, Czech
3.1.2

Support

9,043

3,558

12.601

social democratic (N
Republic, Hungary

Networks

The personal networks considered


(number of relatives mentioned) a
tioned). We have also used the mu
composed of more than one type o
(uniplex). The multiplex variable as
and kinship ties simultaneously. If
multiplex variable assumes a value

3.1.3 Attribute Variables

These refer to three large groups: personal attributes, social attributes and family characteristics. The personal attribute variables show personal effects of interest regarding
subjective well-being: age, gender and religiosity. Gender is a dummy variable that takes
on a value of 1 when referring to males. Religiosity is considered an important variable
because in all exploratory analyses prior to the survey religiosity was found to be significant and positively correlated with subjective well-being. Religiosity is defined in the

) Springer

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Welfare Systems and Subjective Weil-Being Among Retired Persons 517

ISSP survey as frequency of attendance at religious services and varies between

cating never attending, and 5, indicating weekly attendance. Finally, family charact

have been examined using size of household variables and dummy variables which
a value of 1 if married, widowed or separated, in contrast with all other marital sta

Social attributes were measured using the International Socio-Economie Index (


standardized international indicator of occupational status based on ISCO-88. This
is constructed using the average education level and income of each occupation (IS
controlling for the effects of age (Ganzeboom et al. 1992; Ganzeboom and Treiman
The ISEI variable was used as a proxy for social class in the models of this analy
3.1.4 Valorative Variables

These variables measure the relative levels of trust in others (0 none-4 much) and co

fidence in the welfare state (0 none-3 much). They measure the perception of the welfa

system and explain the valorative map of individuals regarding the welfare state
interpersonal trust.

3.1.5 Classification Variable

The ISSP 2001 survey asks about employment status, which we have re-codified into f
categories: occupied persons (part-time contract, full-time contract, assisting in a fam
business, self-employed, employer), unemployed persons, retired persons and non-ac
persons (students, homemakers, permanently disabled persons and others not in the lab
force). Only 'occupied' and 'retired' categories were used in these models.

3.2 Dependent Variables

Subjective well-being was measured by means of a question referring to happiness, usin


scale ranging from 0 for not happy to 3 for very happy. The general level of happiness
used as a proxy for subjective well-being.

4 Analysis
4. 1 Subjective Well-Being in Welfare Systems

Support networks are positively and significantly correlated with subjective well-be
both for occupied and retired persons. Before analyzing how social support affects
dependent variable of subjective well-being, we will analyze the demographic charact
istics and values of the various welfare systems. Table 2 provides the range, average
standard deviation of each of these variables. Table 3 indicates how the various demo-

graphic and valorative characteristics vary depending on occupied or retired status and th
welfare system to which they belong. Three interesting facts become evident from thi
table:

1. Friendship support networks are largest in liberal or Anglo-Saxon countries, followed


by the social democratic system (Nordic countries), while the weakest friendship
networks are in the Mediterranean system. There are differences between occupied and
retired persons, but these differences are intra-rather than inter-systemic. The liberal

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518

F.

Table

Requena
Descriptive

N Min. Max. Average Standard


deviation
Personal attributes

Age of interviewee 12,521 17 101 49.03 16.66


Male

12,584

0.50

0.50

Religious attendance 12,176 0 5 1.86 1.78


Social attributes

International Socio-Economie Index ISCO 88 11,368 16.00 90.00 43.56 16.47

Family attributes
Widowed
Married

12,483
12,483

0
0

1
1

0.08
0.63

0.28
0.48

Divorced-separated 12,483 0 1 0.09 0.30


Number of household members 1 2,536 1 13 2.76 1 .4 1
Values

Interpersonal trust 12,077 0 4 2.26 1.03


Confidence in welfare state 12,211 0 3 2.62 0.59

Support networks

Kinship network 12,601 0 22 4.32 2.47


Friendship network 12,601 0 210 10.38 12.67

Multiple ties (multiplex) 12,518 0 1 0.91 0.29


Dependent variable

Subjective well-being 12,133 0 3 2.10 0.62


Source ISSP 2001, author's own elaboration

system also displays the broadest kinship networks. This might be due to the fact that
although this welfare system allows the market to play a significant role in providing
services, social relations (friends) are important in providing help, at least in the short
term as Fischer (1982) indicated for the United States. Kinship networks occupy a very
important position in the Mediterranean system. In Spain, families are one of the social
institutions that provide the most care for family members in critical situations.

2. The citizens of the liberal system present the greatest extremes in values: the highest
level of interpersonal trust and the lowest level of confidence in the welfare system. By
the latter we mean a belief that the state should involve itself in the material well-being

of its citizens. In contrast, the Nordic countries have the strongest welfare system and

present the highest degree of confidence in the welfare state.


3. However, confidence in the welfare state diverges from the levels of subjective well-

being in the various welfare systems. Countries with liberal systems present the
highest average subjective well-being, even though they are the least confident in the
welfare state. In other words, in the liberal system the welfare state is least involved in
providing services for material well-being, leaving these matters to the market. Their
citizens have the least confidence in the welfare state but the highest level of subjective
well-being. The most plausible explanation we find for this situation would be that less
confidence in the welfare state indicates greater trust in one's own capacity to secure
matters related to well-being, which is reflected in greater inter-personal trust. Greater

< Springer

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Welfare Systems and Subjective Weil-Being Among Retired Persons 519

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Welfare Systems and Subjective Weil-Being Among Retired Persons 521

confidence in people than in the state implies greater subjective well-bei


liberal system, people believe more in other people than in the state.

Surprisingly, although the social democratic countries have very high level

dence in the welfare state, they do not show very high levels of subjective well

same applies to retirees in the Mediterranean system, who demonstrate a hi


confidence in the welfare state but a low degree of subjective well-being.
In Table 4, the correlations between the variables of the models provide m
some interesting considerations. Both occupied and retired persons, but espe
latter, have a significant negative correlation between confidence in the welfar
subjective well-being. Again, those with the least confidence in the welfare st
the highest level of subjective well-being.

Among retired people in general, subjective well-being is positively and sig


correlated with the male gender, age, occupational status, married status, religi

dance and particularly with interpersonal trust. In contrast, among occupied p

jective well-being correlates with youth, the female gender and widowhood. Reg

the welfare system, the characteristics defining subjective well-being are cl


different between retirees and occupied persons. This indicates that the two g
substantially different frames of reference for establishing patterns of subj
being. When it comes to measuring subjective well-being, it is almost as if r

occupied persons lived in two different worlds. This confirms once again the imp
the working world as a frame of reference for life.

4.2 Effects on Subjective Well-Being

In order to answer the questions we are analyzing here, we have constructed a


model, adding new groups of variables one by one, with the welfare systems
variables. This model will show the effect on subjective well-being generat
welfare system, and has been carried out separately for occupied persons (Ta
retirees (Table 6).

In the case of occupied persons, the strength of the relationship between the in

variables and subjective well-being is 0.313, with a coefficient of determination


of the multiple correlation coefficient) that explains 9.8 percent of the total

subjective well-being. Although this is not a large percentage of the variance


significant (p < 0.001). Table 5 indicates that the amount of variance explained
with each group of variables added to the regression model. In other words, s

butes, values and support networks help to explain the variance of subjective
However, we will see in the following paragraphs that the variance is greater
trolling for all the independent variables, including the welfare system, Eq. (6
Regarding personal attributes, religious attendance always shows a positive
well-being, regardless of whether other predictors are controlled for or not,
contrast, age has a significant negative effect on well-being. The socio-economic
proxy for social class always has a positive and significant effect on the wel
occupied persons, Eq. (2). Married status has a positive and significant effect o
being of occupied persons while separated or widowed status has a negative effe
Of the valorative variables introduced in the models, interpersonal trust is signif
confidence in the welfare state is not significantly correlated with well-bein
Friendship networks have a positive and very significant effect on occupied pers
Finally, when introducing welfare systems into the model, we find that the only

4y Springer

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Welfare Systems and Subjective Weil-Being Among Retired Persons 523

large, positive, significant effect on the subjective well-being of occupied person

liberal system. This confirms what has already been pointed out: that this system off

greatest freedom for its members to procure their own material well-being, which i

provides the greatest subjective well-being.

In the case of retirees (Table 6), the relationship between the independent variabl
subjective well being is greater than for occupied persons (0.459) and the coeffi
determination explains 21.1% of the variance in well-being. This is a very sizeab
portion and indicates that welfare systems explain much more of the situation of r
than of occupied persons. This is logical since retirees require more benefits and

from the welfare state. Retirement pensions are an important part of the welfare syste

retired persons are, for obvious life-cycle reasons, much more sensitive to them.

Among retirees, the effects of personal attributes are less significant than am

occupied persons, when taken with the entire set of predictors. However, when exa

on their own, Eq. (1), age, male gender and religious attendance all have a positiv

significant effect on the well-being of retirees. The socio-economic index, proxy fo

class, also has a significant and positive effect, Eq. (2). Family variables show t

results: being married has a very strongly positive effect while widowhood has a ne

effect. The number of household members is not significant, Eq. (3). The valo

variables of Eq. (4) are significant but have opposite effects: interpersonal trust gen
positive effect on well-being while confidence in the welfare state generates a n
effect. So far, the results confirm the importance of interpersonal trust in fosteri
jective well-being. In Eq. (5), support networks are added to the model and always
positive and significant effect when we don't control for welfare systems; the g
significance is always associated with friendship.
Finally, the complete model, Eq. (6), shows the simultaneous effect of all the

independent variables upon subjective well-being. We can observe the most sign
effects (p < 0.001) in terms of demographic, valorative and support network var
which are married status, interpersonal trust and friendship networks, respectiv

regards welfare systems, the liberal system generates the greatest degree of subjectiv
being among retirees, followed by the conservative system.

5 Discussion and Conclusions

Comparisons between nations and cultures involve considerable analytical complexit


to a lack of homogeneity of either the data available or the cultures in which the dat

collected. This analytical weakness is increased when measuring subjective well-b

Eckersley (2009) demonstrated that subjective well-being measured by happiness funct

correctly when it is linked to demographic and psychological characteristics, bu

problems when comparing countries. This is due to cultural differences that imply diff

perceptions of happiness and therefore of subjective well-being. Nonetheless, we have

subjective well-being measured by happiness as the dependent variable in an internatio


comparison because: (1 ) these are all Western countries with similar cultural tradition

relatively similar cultural features; (2) we are not in fact comparing countries but we

systems in groups of countries with certain classified similarities regarding the fo


providing welfare for their citizens.

A careful examination of the two complete models, Eq. (6), for occupied and ret
persons, reveals that the sets of significant variables are similar in the magnitude of

effect in generating subjective well-being. The largest effect on well-being derives


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Welfare Systems and Subjective Well-Being Among Retired Persons 525

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528

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belonging

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conclusions
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support

have

desig

systems.

Acknowledgments
Innovation,

Project

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