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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect