Journal of European Social Policy / European Social Policy Network Doctoral Research Prize 2020

A study of how social policies may correct or worsen socioeconomic inequalities in advanced economies.


Zhen Im

Zhen Im (EGB, CBS))

Young-Kyu Shin (University of Helsinki: Faculty of Social Sciences)

Policy access biases worry social policy scholars because they generate Matthew Effects that exacerbate socioeconomic divides. Yet, access biases in many social investment policies, like training during unemployment, remain under-researched. Such access biases may be detrimental to a critical objective of social investment: to improve and uplift workers with precarious economic prospects. We focus here on access bias in training provided by public employment services against lower-educated workers. They are vulnerable to unemployment and fractured employment and should thus be targeted for training. While there is burgeoning attention on access biases in training against disadvantaged youths and non-citizens, fewer studies have focused on similar access bias against lower-educated workers. We highlight that access bias against such workers may stem from their lower willingness and demand for training, as well as policy design, informal eligibility criteria and caseworkers’ creaming practices. We however suggest that greater availability of training opportunities may ease this access bias against lower-educated workers. Using the Finnish Income Distribution survey data (2007-2012), we find evidence of training access bias: primary-educated workers are significantly less likely to participate in training than upper secondary and vocationally educated workers. Concurrently, our results show that availability of training is not significantly associated with the extent of training access bias against primary-educated workers. With a Nordic welfare model that prioritises training to remedy labour market vulnerability and stresses that access to benefits and services is based on need, Finland represents a least likely case to find such access bias in training. We therefore consider these results worrying: if it is found here, it may be prevalent in countries with other welfare models.