The Demand for Social Insurance: Does Culture Matter?


  •  Corresponding author: Rafael Lalive, Department of Economics, University of Lausanne, Bâtiment Internef Bureau 536, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. Email:

  • We thank, without implicating, an anonymous referee, Sam Bowles, Raj Chetty, Ernst Fehr, Lorenz Goette, Karla Hoff, Mathias Thoenig, H. Peyton Young and seminar participants at University of Lausanne and Zurich for helpful comments on previous versions of this article. This project uses data from the Swiss Household Panel (SHP) and we thank Oliver Lipps for support concerning the interpretation and enrichment of the original SHP data and Jayson Danton for editorial assistance. Research funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant No. 100012-120356/1) is gratefully acknowledged.


Does culture shape the demand for social insurance against risks to health and work? We study this issue across language groups in Switzerland where a language border sharply separates social groups at identical actual levels of publicly provided social insurance. We find substantially stronger support for expansions of social insurance among residents of French, Italian or Romansh-speaking language border municipalities compared with their German-speaking neighbours in adjacent municipalities. Informal insurance does not vary enough to explain stark differences in social insurance but differences in ideology and segmented media markets potentially contribute to the discrepancy in demand for social insurance.