In 2013, the New York Times reported on the case of Carina, a 36-year-old Danish single mother who had been on welfare since she was 16. Denmark has long had one of the most generous welfare systems in Europe, and Carina was able to collect more than €2,300 per month in benefits, an amount that enabled her to live quite comfortably without working.

A second welfare recipient discussed in the article, Robert Nielsen, had been supported by the government for more than a dozen years. He had not attempted to find work and did not intend to. As he said, “Luckily, I am born and live in Denmark, where the government is willing to support my life.”
A new study by the Cato Institute suggests that, in far too many European countries, these might not be isolated cases. Social welfare benefits may be so high, compared to what a low-skilled worker could expect to earn from an entry-level job, that they discourage work.
Using data available from the European Commission and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for 2013, we looked at the case of a typical single mother with two children in 23 EU countries, focusing on four benefits in four broad categories: social assistance, housing assistance, family and child benefits, and tax credits.