Security in the welfare state : Attachment, religion and secularity

Abstract: Because of the industrial revolution some 200 years ago, a growing part of the western world’s population started moving to cities and away from traditional sources of security, like families or local communities. Consequently, social security, such as aid for the sick and elderly, came to be organized through the public domain, giving rise to the welfare states. Today, in countries with more expansive welfare states people less readily turn to another source of security: religion. Thus, welfare states and religion may function as alternative, even competing, sources of security. The aim of the present thesis is to scrutinize whether people use the welfare state as a source of psychological security (the perceived freedom from worry or care) in a similar way as religious people may use their relationship with God. This is done through the framework of attachment theory and how believers’ relationship with God has been understood as an attachment relationship. Another aim is to explore whether people’s attachment-related mental models are linked to trust in welfare state institutions. The thesis includes two empirical studies, using experimental (Study 1) or correlational (Study 3) designs, and performed in two different contexts: Sweden (comprising an expansive welfare state but lower degrees of religiosity) and the US (comprising a smaller welfare state but higher degrees of religiosity). The thesis also includes a conceptual discussion of attachment relationships and figures (Study 2).Study 1 tests whether people’s attention is directed towards the welfare state or God after exposure to threat primes, and if people report a greater willingness to take exploratory risks after being reminded of the welfare state or God. In neither Sweden nor the US did the welfare state function as a source of security in the hypothesized ways. Neither did God, in contrast to previous studies using the same methodology. These failed replications are possibly due to contextual differences between previous studies (conducted in Israel) and the present ones, such as differences in sensitivity to threats. In Study 2, the conceptual boundaries of the constituents of attachment relationships in relation to non-human objects are discussed. Based on Wittgenstein’s notion of “fuzzy boundaries” for categories, the importance of displaying resemblance with human attachments and of enabling the formation of a personal relationship is emphasized. God is argued to display these characteristics, but not the welfare state. Study 3 tests whether attachment orientations (in terms of avoidance and anxiety) are related to trust in welfare state institutions. In both Sweden and the US, attachment-related avoidance was related to lower trust in welfare state institutions, and this link was statistically mediated by low trust in other people. Avoidance may hence predispose for reluctance to seek comfort/support from other people as well as from societal institutions such as the welfare state.In conclusion, although the security that the welfare state provides makes people less prone to turn to religion for security, people do not appear to use the welfare state as a source of psychological security in the same way as religious people may use their relationship with God. Also, people’s attachment (in-)security, more specifically avoidance, may influence not only behavior and attitudes in close relationships but also in relation to societal institutions.