By Carola Corti
Final assignment for the “Data Analysis” course, Public and Corporate Communication Master’s program, 2021-2022, University of Milano. Instructor: Giulia Dotti Sani
Universal basic income (UBI) is a social welfare policy currently gaining attention across the world. It aims to provide universal financial security to citizens and address social and economic inequalities, ultimately emancipating its recipients and allowing them to pursue the life they desire.
While the debate in the political and academic discourse has largely focused on the consequences of its application, little research exists on what factors are responsible for citizens’ actual attitudes towards it, and what conditions can be determinant in yielding supportive positions.
So, who is more likely to support Universal Basic Income?
This brief analysis seeks to answer this question by analyzing data from the 2016 European Social Survey 8th Round, focusing on the relationship between support toward UBI and different socio-demographic characteristics namely gender, age, and level of education.
According to the 2021 UN Women policy brief, unconditional income, independent of paid work, would enhance women’s economic empowerment and self-reliance in social groups. Seen as a tool for social and economic empowerment, the implementation of UBI could thus bring a progressive reshaping of gender norms in households, in the workplace, and in the community in favor of greater gender equality.
In terms of age, Smith and Shanahan (2017) argued that younger segments of the population would benefit from the implementation of UBI. In fact, a universal basic income policy could counterbalance the diminishing employment opportunities and precarious economic conditions that characterize the employment situation of Millennials and Generation Z, compared to that of Generation X and Baby Boomers. Thus, UBI is expected to have greater rates of support among young people.
Finally, level of education might also play a central role in determining whether individuals are against or in favor of this type of policy. As Herke and Vicsek (2022) observed, higher-educated individuals are more likely to prefer a job-creation scenario, considering the implementation of UBI as a disincentivizing factor from working.
Beyond individual characteristics, attention is also given to country-level differences: different political and welfare policy traditions may indeed lead public opinion to develop distinct points of view, be they critical or supportive, of such state intervention.
Although each European country has its own singularities, this analysis will be conducted on four countries representative of different welfare models: Italy will be representative of the Mediterranean model, Norway of the social democratic model, Germany of the conservative group, and Russia for the post-socialist block.
Based on what is stated above, the research draws on the following hypotheses:
- Women are more likely than men to support UBI
- Younger cohorts’ citizens are more likely than the older ones to express support for UBI.
- People with higher education are more likely to be against UBI
Data were retrieved from the European Social Survey’s eighth round, collected between 2016 and 2017 via systematic and stratified random sampling.
For the ESS variable on attitudes towards basic income, respondents were asked how much, on a scale from 1 to 4 they agreed with the implementation of basic income policies in their country (1 “Strongly against”, 2 “Against”, 3 “In favor” and 4 “Strongly in favor”). To conduct this research, this variable was renamed and recoded in two levels, namely “Against” and “In favour.”
Education was recoded into “Less than upper secondary,” “Upper secondary” and “Tertiary”.
Age was recoded into five categories in order to differentiate between cohorts: Generation Z, including 15 to 26 years old people; Millennials, those aged 27 to 41; Generation X, represented by 42 to 57-year-old respondents; Baby Boomers, including those aged 58 to 76 and, finally, those belonging to the Silent Generation, which constitutes the eldest cohort, composed by those aged 77 to 100 years old.
The analyses are stratified by country of residence, namely Italy, Germany, Norway, and Russia.
After listwise deletion of missing cases on the variables of interest, the overall sample size is 8,441.
Figure 1 shows the distribution of support for Universal Basic Income across all countries in the ESS sample.
As can be seen, the proportion of respondents who expressed support for UBI is much lower in several Northern European countries, while higher proportions occur in Eastern Europe.
As per the countries focus of this brief analysis, the agreement is much higher in Russia (.73), followed by Italy (.59), Germany (.47), and Norway (.34).
What role do gender, age, and education play in shaping attitudes toward basic income?
First, we tested gender differences. Contrary to our first hypothesis, results from logistic regression models revealed no significant difference between women and men in any of the considered countries. Only in Norway and Russia do we find somewhat higher support among women, but the difference is very small and not statistically significant.
We then investigated age differences. As Figure 2 shows, support for UBI decreases from Generation Z to the Baby Boomer group in all geographical areas. Although not perfectly parallel, trends among the countries are very similar. This brings support to our second hypothesis.
However, interestingly, support appears to increase again among the group of oldest respondents, the Silent generation, especially in Germany and Italy. Although the difference between this group and the previous one is not significant at the 5% level, this result deserves more attention in future studies.
Finally, we address the issue of whether level of education is related to attitudes toward basic income. Figure 3 shows the predicted probability with 95% confidence intervals of being in favour of Universal Basic Income by level of education and country.
As shown in Figure 3, education yields only minor differences in support towards UBI among Russian and Italian respondents. On the contrary, for the German and, more so, Norwegian case, lower education is associated with a higher probability of being pro-UBI.
Overall, the hypothesis that the likelihood of supporting universal basic income would be lowest among the highest education levels did not fully hold, as differences by level of education are overall marginal and in any case similar between medium and high educated respondents.
This brief analysis has investigated whether socio-economic characteristics such as age, gender, and education are related to attitudes towards Universal Basic Income in four countries: Italy, Germany, Norway, and Russia.
So, who is more likely to support Universal Basic Income? The results indicate that, overall, Italy and Russia are the countries with higher support towards UBI whereas support is considerably lower in Germany and Norway.
Within countries, gender and education play only a marginal role in shaping attitudes toward UBI, whereas age is the most relevant factor in this respect. Indeed, respondents from the younger cohort are considerably more in favor of such a policy, a result that should be examined further.
The debate around the advantages and disadvantages of the application of Universal Basic Income has become more heated in recent years.
With the aim of understanding who is more likely to support Universal Basic Income, it would be relevant to study which other factors could affect negative or positive responses to UBI implementation.
For example, further research should indeed focus on how political beliefs, social attitudes, and labor market perspectives are related to different attitudes toward this type of welfare intervention.
Basic income network website
The United Nations, United Nations Women Policy Brief number 22, 2021
Smith, Mark, and Genevieve Shanahan (2017). “Do young people want Universal Basic Income?” Style Handbook.
Herke, B., & Vicsek, L.(2022). The attitudes of young citizens in higher education towards universal basic income in the context of automation—A qualitative study. International Journal of Social Welfare, 31(3), 310–322.