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To Be Left Is To Be Sad?

  • October 8th, 2007
  • Posted by Nina Plonka

segolene-royal.jpgRecent Danish-based research has confirmed a link between happiness and political belief, saying that the more left-orientated a person is politically, the less happy he or she will be.

The chief researcher, Christian Bjørnskov, Associate Professor at the Aarhus School of Business in Denmark, says happiness and personal satisfaction are closely connected with a perception of fairness – or unfairness– in society.

He starts with a simple analogy, drawn from sport:

“Most people have a strong dislike for losing sports matches, but the impact of a loss is much stronger if they have the impression that their opponent has not played by the rules.”

On the other hand, people will accept the outcome of a game if it is reached by fair means. [So, to digress, we should not see excessive hand-ringing and woe among Australian and New Zealand footy fans after this last weekend?].

The researchers transferred this principle to the question of income being spread equally, or unequally in society.

Using data from the comprehensive World Values Survey, they evaluated the answers of roughly 71.000 people from 60 countries to questions for example about how satisfied the respondents were with their life, if they thought there was a need to eliminate inequality and whether incomes should be more equal.


The result showed a very similar pattern in nearly every country, raising the question of whether party leaders from left-of-centre parties, like Ms Segolene Royal (picture) or Mr Kevin Rudd, ought to be seen smiling all that much.

Especially women and people who position themselves in the political left wing, it seems, are more sensitive to an inequality in income.
Prof Bjørnskov says the reason lies in the principles behind left-orientated beliefs:

“They evaluate income differences more negatively as they are much more prone to believing that differences between rich and poor are due to pure chance or even some kind of foul play,” he told EUAustralia.

On the right wing, in contrast, people tend to see income differences just as the result of talent, skills and hard work.

They often perceive society “is more just and fair,” says Mr Bjørnskov, “which means that they are happier in general.”


Interestingly, the study also found that this pattern did not change much with the personal wealth of the participants.

Even if an extremely left orientated person is socially and materially well off they can still take the major differences between poor and rich as an indicator of unfairness and failure of the society they live in.


Especially in France the number of people believing that incomes should be made more equal was high.

About 60% of the people taking part in the survey confirmed some traditional left-wing orientation in that country.

In Australia the figure was considerably lower. About one-third thought that redistribution of income was necessary.


Christian Bjørnskov, Axel Dreher and Justina A.V. Fischer, “The relation between inequality and happiness – do subjective perceptions matter?”; Nationalökonomisk Institut (Department of Economics), Handelshøjskolen i Århus (Aarhus School of Business), Aarhus. (8.10.07)