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Does Becoming Rich Make People Right-Wing?

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Originally posted on January 6, 2015.

University of Warwick economist Andrew Oswald—someone who creatively bridges economics and psychological science, as in his studies of money and happiness—offers some fascinating recent findings on his website:

  • A huge UK social experiment “offered incentives to disadvantaged people to remain and advance in work and to become self-sufficient.” Five years later the experimental group indeed had higher earnings than the control group, but lower levels of well-being (less happiness and more worries). Ouch.
  • Income (up to a point) correlates with happiness. But is that because richer people tend to be happier, or happier people tend to be richer? By following adolescent and young adult lives through time, with controls for other factors, the data reveal that happiness does influence future income.
  • After winning a lottery, do people political attitudes shift right?  Indeed yes.  “Our findings are consistent with the view that voting is driven partly by human self-interest.  Money apparently makes people more right-wing.”

This finding syncs with earlier findings that inequalities breed their own justification.  Upper-class people are more likely than those in poverty to see people’s fortunes as earned, thanks to their skill and effort—and not as the result of having connections, money, and good luck. 

Such findings also fit U.S. political surveys showing that high income individuals are more likely to vote Republican...despite—here’s a curious wrinkle to ponder—high income states being less likely to vote Republican.  We might call this “the wealth and politics paradox”—poor states and rich individuals vote conservative. Care to speculate why this difference?

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About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).