In Search of 'Intergenerational Cultures of Worklessness': Hunting the Yeti and Shooting Zombies

Robert Macdonald, Tracy Shildrick, Andy Furlong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


The idea of 'intergenerational cultures of worklessness' has become influential in UK politics and policy, and been used to explain contemporary worklessness and to justify welfare reforms. Workless parents are said to pass on to their children attitudes and behaviours which inculcate 'welfare dependency'. In its strongest version, politicians and welfare practitioners talk confidently of 'three generations of families where no-one has ever worked'; even though no study, bar this one, has investigated whether such families actually exist. Solid evidence for intergenerational cultures of worklessness is elusive so this study tested the idea via interviews with twenty families in Glasgow and Middlesbrough that had been long-term workless. Theories of intergenerational cultures of worklessness feel like 'zombie arguments' - resistant to evidence and social scientific efforts to kill them off. Regardless, the findings of this critical case study are offered as a fresh batch of ammunition with which to try to do so.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-220
Number of pages22
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number2
Early online date26 Sep 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014
Externally publishedYes


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