Those with a more conservative political orientation are happier because they have greater access to social capital, according to research published last month in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
In a study of 925 undergraduate students, University of Queensland psychologist Jolanda Jetten and her colleagues found that conservatives tended to be happier than liberals because of their position in the social system. In particular, conservatives were more likely than liberals to have strong ties to several social groups, which previous research has found tends to promote happiness. Conservatives were also more likely to have grown up in an upper class family.
Researchers have been examining the apparent happiness gap between liberals and conservatives since 2006, when the Pew Research Center (PDF) found Republicans were much more likely to report being “very happy” than Democrats. In 2008, New York University psychologists Jaime Napier and John Jost found the difference in ideology between conservatives and liberals could account for the difference.
Napier and Jost theorized (PDF) that conservatives are generally happier than liberals because conservativism is a “system-justifying ideology.” Conservatives are more likely to believe that a person’s economic status is a result of his or her hard work — or lack thereof. This belief helps them justify inequality and shields them psychologically from its negative effects.
“[O]ur research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives, apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light,” Napier and Jost explained in their study.
But Jetten and her colleagues said their own study showed Napier and Jost were “over-hasty” to pin the happiness gap on ideology, while downplaying important social and demographic factors.
“In short, it appears that what makes conservatives happy is not conservative ideology but rather material advantage — the same advantage that makes conservative ideology appealing in the first place,” Jetten and her colleagues concluded.
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