A common, and reasonable, assumption is that poverty makes people unhappy. One of the puzzles in international economics is the connection between this relationship—the correlation between socioeconomic status and personal well-being—and the general level of wealth in a society as a whole. Social scientists have observed that as countries get richer, socioeconomic status is more strongly correlated with well-being, i.e. being poor more strongly predicts feeling bad in poor countries than rich ones.
A new paper, authored by an ocean-spanning group of social science researchers, and published in PNAS, offers a suggested solution to this paradox: poorer societies are more religious, and the effects of national religiosity lessen the effects of poverty on well-being.
“It is not a nation’s economic development per se that alters the psychological burden of lower SES, but a tremendously important covariate of it— national religiosity,” the authors write. “Eminent thinkers, from Voltaire to Durkheim, have pointed to the role of religion in creating and maintaining norm-abiding groups. The resulting social norms hold prominent positions in theories of the emergence and perpetuation of culture and, ultimately, human evolution.”
Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.
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