This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Happiness
60-Second Mind

Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?

Conservatives have greater subjective life satisfaction than liberals, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Two New York University researchers performed three studies to find out why. Christie Nicholson reports.

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]


Conservatives are happier than liberals. This according to a 2006 Pew Research Center survey cited in a paper published this month in Psychological Science.

But New York University researchers set out to isolate the reasons why right-wingers would have greater subjective well-being than left-wingers.

They collected data from nearly 1,200 people from the 2000 American National Election Study and found that above the effects of gender, marital status, income, religion and age, the reason for this happiness disparity can be distilled to the separate ideologies of liberals and conservatives.

The authors argue that a conservative belief acts as a psychological buffer in a world of increasing inequality. The idea is that conservatives tend to rationalize inequality as the result of a fair process in a meritocracy, whereas liberals tend to see inequality as inherently unjust.

Analyses with data from 9,000 people across 10 countries uncovered the pattern that, not only do right-wingers report greater life satisfaction across cultures, but the gap widens in those countries where quality of life is low.

Finally, the authors looked at U.S. data spanning the past 30 years, and found that increasing economic inequality is associated with the decrease in the nation’s overall happiness. But noted they found that liberals’ self-reported happiness decreased more steeply than that of conservatives.

- Christie Nicholson


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