Protestants suffer worst when on the dole

12 April 2013

By a staff reporter


"The shoemakers": woodcut illustration fromThe Book of Trades(1568), by the Swiss artist, Jost Amman (1539-1591) 

"The shoemakers": woodcut illustration fromThe Book of Trades(1568), by the Swiss artist, Jost Amman (1539-1591) 

THERE is truth in the old adage that work is good for you, a new study on the Protestant work-ethic suggests.

Researchers found evidence to suggest that levels of well-being are as much as 40 per cent lower among people who are unemployed in Protestant societies than in other countries.

Academics from the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, examined data from more than 150,000 people in 82 countries, including the UK, in order to discover whether the so-called Protestant work-ethic really exists.

The link between Protestantism and hard work was first put forward by a sociologist, Max Weber, in 1904.

The new study looked at people in historically Protestant countries, including the UK, the United States, Australia, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

It found that unemployment damages feelings of well-being, re- gardless of religion; but that the damage was 40-per-cent worse in historically Protestant countries. Researchers concluded: "It seems that, at the individual level, unemployment hurts Protestants much more than it does non-Protestants." They posit that what matters is not whether an individual has an active faith, but the prevailing religion or denomination of the wider society.

Other studies have shown that people with an active religion - of whatever faith or denomination - tend to suffer less when unemployed. This has been taken to suggest that believers value income and status less than non-believers.

The lead researcher, André van Hoorn, said that, analysing the cross-section of individuals from different societies, "we find strong support for a Protestant work-ethic: unemployment hurts Protestants more, and hurts more in Protestant societies."

Professor Cary Cooper, Professor of Psychology at Lancaster University, said that the research showed that the Protestant work-ethic was still "alive and kicking". He said, however, that the latest prolonged recession in the UK might have damaged it, as it had shown that, for many people, hard work doesn't always pay off.

He believed that people were now looking for a better balance between work and family life.

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