East European Politics and Societies: and Cultures. DOI: 10.1177/0888325420937773
The literature on single mothers’ welfare deservingness is dominated by analyses carried out in Anglo-Saxon countries. Those analyses tend to point to an undeserving public image of single mothers. This negative perception is often explained by the identity gap between middle-class voters and poor single mothers, which is partly fuelled by conservative family values in mainstream society. This study investigates the issue in Hungary, where the government has strongly promoted traditional family ideals and significantly increased the support for affluent two-parent families in the past decade. First, the study explores the public image of single mothers based on open-ended and closed-ended survey questions. Second, it measures the perceived deservingness of the group based on five criteria (control, attitude, reciprocity, identity, and need) (van Oorschot 2000) by using the same open-ended question data and a series of other survey data. The results show that single mothers have a coherent deserving public image in Hungary: they have a hard life, do everything to make a living for their family, and lack appropriate financial and emotional support. Results, however, also show that public attitudes are in line with the government’s conservative family policy, and there is, indeed, an identity gap between single-mother families and the public. Nevertheless, this identity gap is not enough to generate negative welfare attitudes towards single mothers because they are perceived as deserving regarding the other four deservingness criteria.