Social inequalities in reception of social welfare support: A population based twin study

Eivind Ystrom, Ragnhild Ørstavik, Ted Reichborn-Kjennerud, Fartein Ask Torvik


Social welfare support runs in families. Recent studies using Nordic registry data have found individual
differences in genetic factors to be of substantial importance for medical benefits. However, to date there has
been no genetically informative studies on receiving social welfare support. To prevent young adults to not
drop out of the work life and become recipients of social welfare support, it is of substantial interest to
clarify to what extent the familiarity of social welfare support is due to genetic or social differences between
families. We used data from the Historical-Event Database on 7,698 Norwegian twins born 1967-1979 to
estimate the relative contribution of genetic factors, the effective familial environment (i.e. the “shared
environment”), and individual-specific environmental factors. We found that the two forms of familial risk,
genetic and shared environmental, explained 39% and 45%, respectively, of the risk for receiving social
welfare support among young Norwegian twins. Only 17% of the variance in risk factors could be explained
by individual-specific risk factors. It appears that risk for receiving social welfare support can to a great
extent be explained by environmental differences between families. Therefore prevention strategies targeting
social inequalities between families would indeed be effective. Furthermore, genetic risk factors are also
important in explaining risk for receiving social welfare support. These effects could be mediated through
heritable traits related to substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, and personality. Individual-specific risk factors
were of very little importance. Hence, with regard to receiving social welfare support, family matters.

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