Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Politics, religion, and happiness (ambitious enough a title?)

Arthur Brooks has argued the future of the GOP is bright because conservatives are more fecund than liberals are. Half Sigma modified that assertion by showing that the fertility gap by political philosophy did not translate to party affiliation. Self-described conservatives, whether Republican or Democrat, have more kids than self-described liberals, Republican or Democrat, do. Then there is the whole issue of immigration, but that's not the subject of this post.

Stepping away from the partisan labels, it is said that conservatives are happier than liberals are. It is also said that religious folks are happier than irreligious people. But self-described conservatives are more religious than liberals are. On a scale where 1 represents no religiosity at all and 4 represents the highest level of religious commitment, conservatives* average 2.87, moderates 2.63, and liberals 2.41, with a standard deviation of .94. The average liberal is less religious than 70% of conservatives are. So it's not immediately obvious whether religiosity is related to happiness while political conservatism is its proxy, the other way around, or a combination of the two.

From a GSS item querying participants on their happiness, I've created a simple index. The higher the score, the happier a group is. Levels of happiness are reported for the four categories of religiosity the survey employs.

Not religious
(N = 607)
Libs -- 1.05
Mods -- 1.13
Cons -- 1.20

Slightly religious (N = 995)
Libs -- 1.13
Mods -- 1.08
Cons -- 1.16

Moderately religious (N = 1859)
Libs -- 1.16
Mods -- 1.23
Cons -- 1.28

Very religious (N = 781)
Libs -- 1.26
Mods -- 1.33
Cons -- 1.39

That's a disparate way of taking the data in, so here is a visualization of the same (click on the image for greater resolution).

There does not appear to be much difference in happiness between those who are not religious and those who describe themselves as "slightly religious". Nominal religious affiliation, not surprisingly, differs little from having no affiliation at all. If these two categories are combined, leaving us with three levels of religious commitment--low, middling, and high--the pattern becomes very clear, as the second graph illustrates.

Both pieces of conventional wisdom previously mentioned have value. Political conservatism and religious commitment are each independently correlated with happiness. Religiosity is more 'influential' than political outlook is. Notice that highly religious liberals are happier than irreligious conservatives are. Yet at every level of religious commitment, conservatives are happier than liberals.


* The GSS uses seven categories in classifying political viewpoints. For ease of presentation, I've combined the three degrees of liberalism and the three degress of conservatism into single groups representing liberals and conservatives, respectively.


Anonymous said...

Ignorance is bliss.

BGC said...

Nice clear analysis.

But the happiness response on surveys is more of a trait than a state - specifically it can usually be 'explained' by personality traits especially the variable Neuroticism - Emotional Stability.

I would guess that it is the greater Emotional Stability of both Conservatives and the Religious which is the underlying reality.

Of course that merely pushes the analysis back to trying to explain why Neuroticism should be related to politics and religion...

Audacious Epigone said...


Lisa Simpson made a graph depicting as much.


A trait being that which a state tends to be more-or-less anchored to, right? I wonder if self-described 'born agains' or former leftists who've moved to the right, like Michael Medved, would say they're more happy if asked today than they would have if asked before the switch.

Renee said...

The standard leftist indoctrination in schools is dysfunctional and "crazy-making." Modern leftism is wildly inconsistent and contradictory, based more upon what it is opposed to than upon any uplifting or unifying principle.

The multiple blindspots of leftist dogma make for frequent cognitive dissonance should leftists be forced to make their way in the world without tenure, union guarantees, or other forms of ironclad security.

Marc-Paul said...

perhaps this study can explain it.

researchers at U of Toronto "found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They're much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error." their study suggests that the brains of the religiously inclined are wired differently.

i dismiss renee's comment. one could as easily say that "rightist doctrine" lulls people into a sense of false security through paternalism. pish.