Hate Welfare But Help the Poor: How the Attributional Content of Stereotypes Explains the Paradox of Reactions to the Destitute in America1


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    P. J. Henry is now at University of California, Santa Barbara, and Christine Reyna is now at DePaul University. The authors thank David Sears, Jim Sidanius, Shlomo Hareli, Gregg Gold, Lisa Farwell, Colette van Laar, Scott Roesch, Inna Rivkin, Charles Outcalt, Seiji Takaku, Jaana Juvonen, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. We also thank Patsy Wong, Annahita Palar, and Diane Lucero for their help with material preparation and data collection.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to P. J. Henry, who is now at Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106. E-mail: henry@psych.ucsb.ed.


Social scientists have documented more negative reactions to the concept of welfare versus the concept of poor, despite the fact that both labels can be used almost interchangeably in current political discussions. We believe that the most proximal explanation rests in the different attributional information contained within the stereotypes of welfare recipients versus poor people. Three studies were conducted to test this idea. The results suggest that the attributional content within stereotypes of welfare recipients, particularly their greater responsibility for their impoverished state compared with poor people, most influences the public's more negative reaction to welfare. The results are discussed in terms of how the rhetoric of stereotypes may be exploited in the political domain.