The Journal of Economic Inequality

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 375–395 | Cite as

No claim, no pain. Measuring the non-take-up of social assistance using register data

  • Olivier BargainEmail author
  • Herwig Immervoll
  • Heikki Viitamäki


The main objectives of social assistance benefits, including poverty alleviation and labor-market or social reintegration, can be seriously compromised if support is difficult to access. While recent studies point to high non-take-up rates, existing evidence does not make full use of the information recorded by benefit agencies. Most studies have to rely on interview-based data, with misreporting and measurement errors affecting the variables needed to establish both benefit receipt and benefit entitlement. In this paper, we exploit a unique combination of Finnish administrative data and eligibility simulations based on the tax-benefit calculator of the Finnish authorities, carefully investigating the measurement issues that remain. We find rates of non-take-up that are both substantial and robust: 40 to 50% of those eligible do not claim. Using repeated cross-section estimations for years 1996–2003, we identify a set of stable determinants of claiming behavior and suggest that changes in behavior could drive the observed downward trend in take-up rates during the post-recession period. We discuss the poverty implications of our results.


Take-up Social assistance Poverty Register data 

JEL Classification

D31 H31 H53 I38 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivier Bargain
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Herwig Immervoll
    • 4
  • Heikki Viitamäki
    • 5
  1. 1.University College DublinDublin 4Ireland
  2. 2.Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)BonnGermany
  3. 3.Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic Economics (CHILD)TorinoItaly
  4. 4.OECD, Paris and IZA, ISER and European Center for Social Welfare Policy and ResearchCanberraAustralia
  5. 5.VATTHelsinkiFinland

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