Research at Social Policy

 Social policy research is interested in social risks, wellfare systems and social security.

We study how different systems work in different countries and at different stages of life. Typical research questions are:

  • How is welfare produced?
  • What is the level of social security?
  • What kind of safety nets for children, students, unemployed, sick and elderly are available?
  • How much are taxes paid by nationals of different countries?
  • Do people feel the system is working and supported?
  • Is welfare in society fairly distributed?
  • What can be done with funds invested in social policy?
  • How do social security systems succeed in securing people's livelihood and well-being in different risk situations in life?

Ongoing research

European Social Survey

The European Social Survey (ESS) is an academically driven cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe since its establishment in 2001. Every two years, face-to-face interviews are conducted with newly selected, cross-sectional samples.

The survey measures the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns of diverse populations in more than thirty nations. The main aims of the ESS are:

  • to chart stability and change in social structure, conditions and attitudes in Europe and to interpret how Europe’s social, political and moral fabric is changing;
  • to achieve and spread higher standards of rigour in cross-national research in the social sciences, including for example, questionnaire design and pre-testing, sampling, data collection, reduction of bias and the reliability of questions;
  • to introduce soundly-based indicators of national progress, based on citizens’ perceptions and judgements of key aspects of their societies;
  • to undertake and facilitate the training of European social researchers in comparative quantitative measurement and analysis;
  • to improve the visibility and outreach of data on social change among academics, policy makers and the wider public.

The ESS data is available free of charge for non-commercial use and can be downloaded from this website after a short registration.

The Director of the ESS ERIC is Professor Rory Fitzgerald and the ESS ERIC Headquarters are located at City, University of London. In Finland, the ESS is co-ordinated at the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Turku. From the beginning, the National Coordinator has been Professor of Social Policy Heikki Ervasti. Fieldwork in Finland has been implemented by Statistics Finland.

>> Read more about ESS


Time span: 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015

Description: A postal survey collected at the Unit of Social Policy in 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015. The principal idea of the survey was to replicate surveys that in other countries (for example in England and in Sweden) were constructed to analyze people’s perceptions of poverty, and based on this, analyze the extent of poverty. With the data, it is possible to study people’s perceptions on the necessities of life, deprivation in different dimensions, employment status and employment history, the social status of childhood home, subjective well-being and attitudes towards the welfare state and welfare recipients. 

Person in charge: Veli-Matti Ritakallio

Comparative studies on child maintenance policies, family complexity, and equalities (ChildSupport)

Site of research:  
Department of Social Research, University of Turku, Finland 

Academy of Finland, Academy Research Fellow, 1.9.2016 - 31.8.2021

Project description
Family relationships are recognized to be increasingly complex in many Western industrialized countries. Children are increasingly raised in single-parent families, stepfamilies, and by cohabiting rather than married couples. Furthermore, members of a family may differ regarding biological ties and legal relationships. This ambiguity in family roles and responsibilities and increase in joint legal custody, flexible visitation arrangements, and dual residence agreements affects the character, composition, and resource sharing within families and between the welfare state and families. As family relationships become more complex, it raises a question about how child maintenance policy should address complex family situations. This research attempts to answer these questions by comparing child maintenance policies across countries and demonstrating how different welfare states deal with family complexity.

This study employs the vignette method.  Vignettes are hypothetical cases that are intended to highlight a policy and how it works in particular family situations. Vignette scenarios are used to allow a standardized comparison of how country-specific child maintenance schemes respond to relatively common patterns of parental separation, re-partnering, and changes in household and paid work circumstances. 
The study will recruit national informants from OECD countries, and they will each complete a questionnaire with different kinds of vignettes. National informants will be mainly academics and will be recruited to report the child maintenance provisions in their own countries.
Informants will be sent a questionnaire containing closed questions and structured elements of child maintenance policies in their country, including vignettes, where informants are invited to describe what would happen in standard hypothetical cases in the given circumstances. Vignettes will provide both qualitative and quantitative information.
Luxembourg Income Study
There will be a secondary data analysis of the Luxembourg Income Study. The aim is to analyse the outcomes of child maintenance policy in terms of receipt, amount, child poverty, and the paying potential of those paying maintenance – on a comparable basis.
If you require further information about the project, please contact :

Dr. Mia Hakovirta, Academy Research Fellow
Mari Haapanen, Research Assistant


EuSocialCit is a cross-disciplinary research project, which studies the situation of social rights in Europe. EuSocialCit, which is the acronym for ‘The Future of European Social Citizenship’, examines the role of the EU in realizing the social rights in the future. EuSocialCit is conducted by a research consortium of eight European universities. The project is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework programme for Research and Innovation.

The Unit of Social policy takes part in work packages 5.2. and 5.4. In the working package 5.2., cross-comparable food baskets for selected EU countries are developed. The work package 5.4 examines food banks and their role in minimum income protection. University teacher Lauri Mäkinen from the unit of Social Policy participates in these work packages.

More information about the project can be found here:

Ended Research Projects


Improve (Poverty Reduction in Europe: Social Policy and Innovation) is an international research project funded by the European Commission, that includes ten research institutes and an extensive network of researchers to study poverty, social policy and social innovation in Europe. Improve aims to assess the impact of the financial crisis on poverty and inequality and to analyze the relations between employment, social security and inclusion. 

The project that started in March 2012 and that continues to February 2016, aims to produce information that can be used in political decision-making. Ilari Ilmakunnas, Lauri Mäkinen and Veli-Matti Ritakallio have participated in the Improve project from the unit of Social Policy. 

More information can be found in the Improve website:

Muuttuva Salo: Sudden structural changes – case study of Nokia plant closing in Salo

The impact of the structural change on welfare, employment and economic structure in Salo.
The city of Salo has been the subject of large-scale dismissals and rapid structural change in recent years.  The study will examine the impacts of the structural change on the individual and on the regional economic development.

The study will consider this question relative to the health, welfare and employment prospects of the individual and to the whole regional economic structure. The special interest is in the development of the services and the benefits provided by Kela.

The project is funded by the University of Turku and Kela.

Researchers in charge:
University lecturer, D.Soc.Sc.
Minna Ylikännö (Social Policy, University of Turku)

Researcher, Ph.D.
Sari Kehusmaa (Kela research department)


Measuring and monitoring absolute poverty (ABSPO)

Measuring and monitoring absolute poverty (ABSPO), was a joint initiative between DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and was launched in December 2018. The purpose of the pilot project was to develop a new poverty measure based on Reference Budgets, which was cross-comparable across European Union’s Member States. The project ended in January 2022. The poverty indicator was piloted in four countries: Belgium, Finland, Hungary and Italy. University teacher Lauri Mäkinen from the unit of Social Policy was a member of the national expert team. 

Final report of the project can be downloaded here:

Recent Publications

Työn joustavuus - Sittenkin uhka? (2023)

Janus: sosiaalipolitiikan ja sosiaalityön tutkimuksen aikakauslehti
Anttila Mari
(Article or data-article in scientific journal (B1))