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