The Protestant work ethic: Heaven knows I'm miserable now

It really does exist, and as jobs disappear, grafters are having to rethink their work-life balance

"Hard work never killed anyone," goes the joke, "but why take the chance?" For those possessed of the much-vaunted Protestant work ethic, however, it isn't a joke; without work they are unhappier than those of other religions. Well-being levels among unemployed individuals are 40 per cent lower in Protestant societies than in other countries, according to a study of more than 150,000 people in 82 countries including the UK.

The researchers from Groningen University in the Netherlands set out to investigate whether a Protestant work ethic, an idea first advanced by sociologist Max Weber in 1904, really exists. Weber suggested that the Protestant religious concept of achieving God-given grace through hard work and frugality was one of the crucibles of capitalist economic systems.

Despite widespread acceptance of his theory, the Dutch researchers found very few studies have been carried out to test it.

They examined whether protestant societies and individuals are more adversely affected by unemployment than others. Countries identified as being historically Protestant included the UK, Australia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Switzerland and the US. Researchers allowed for a number of factors that could have skewed their results including age, gender, income, education, health, and marital status.

The results show that unemployment reduces happiness and well-being regardless of religious denomination, but that it has a 40 per cent additional negative effect for Protestants. "The negative effect of unemployment on self-reported happiness was twice as strong for Protestants compared with non-Protestants," they say.

"We found that the work ethic does exist, and that individual Protestants and historically Protestant societies appear to value work much more than others," said Dutch economist Dr André van Hoorn, who led the study. "At the individual level, unemployment hurts Protestants much more than it does non-Protestants."

"Protestantism causes a stronger work ethic. Interestingly, it is not so much Protestant individuals who are hurt more by being unemployed as it is individuals – both Protestants and non-Protestants – living in Protestant societies. Our results lend support to Weber's argument that it is a spirit evolving from a historically Protestant ethic rather than contemporary, individual Protestantism that matters."

Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University, said, "It shows that the Protestant work ethic is alive and kicking. It was very evident during the Thatcher and Blair years, and the current coalition emphasis on the negative aspects of benefits are also evidence of it. It is very much a cultural thing. In the UK, for example, people work for achievement; in the US, with fewer safety nets – no redundancy [pay] for example – fear is likely a driver.

"I think 2008 made some differences. People who had followed the work ethic for years found themselves without a job; all the sacrifices – working long hours, not seeing the kids – had not worked out. We may find that's damaged the work ethic and people are putting less focus on work and more on a balance between work and the rest of their life."

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform