Research / BFI Working PaperAug 03, 2022

Stigma in Welfare Programs

Pablo A. Celhay, Bruce Meyer, Nikolas Mittag

Stigma of welfare participation is important for policy and survey design, because it deters program take-up and increases misreporting. Stigma is also relevant to the literature on social image concerns, yet empirical evidence is scant because stigma is difficult to empirically identify. We use a novel approach to studying stigma by examining the relationship between program participation in a recipient’s local network and underreporting program participation in surveys. We find a robust negative relationship and rule out explanations other than stigma. Stigma decreases when more peers engage in the stigmatized behavior and when such actions are less observable.

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