Monetizing Illness: Public Assistance and the Evaluation of Health and Disability

Rourke O'Brien, Harvard University

In many countries, demonstrating the existence of a work limiting disability or health condition qualifies an individual for state-funded public assistance. This article explores how this monetization of illness—tying receipt of public assistance to a physical or mental condition—influences how individuals evaluate the severity of another individual’s health symptoms. Using data collected through a nationally representative survey experiment (n=1005), I find that respondents who are primed to consider the existence of disability benefits are less likely to rate the symptoms described in a hypothetical vignette as severe relative to the control group. Moreover, respondents in the treatment group were more likely to blame the individual for his or health condition. These findings have important implications for researchers, policymakers and medical practitioners through illustrating how premising state assistance on a health condition may in turn shape how individuals evaluate health symptoms.

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Presented in Session 179: Demography of Disability among Persons of Working Ages