Conservatives report greater meaning and purpose in life than liberals, study finds

Findings from five separate studies link a person’s political ideology and their sense of meaning in life, with conservatives reporting greater meaning than liberals. The findings appear in the scientific journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“The finding that conservatives report greater life satisfaction was an older finding that I found interesting and it has continued to gain attention,” said study author David Newman of the University of Southern California.

“Much of the research has focused solely on just one indicator of well-being, namely evaluations of life satisfaction. I was a bit surprised no one had expanded the research to include other measures of well-being, and I am interested in learning more about differences between hedonic forms of well-being (e.g., life satisfaction, positive emotions) and eudaimonic forms of well-being (e.g., meaning in life).”

For the research, Newman and his colleagues analyzed data from 19,051 individuals who participated in the European Values Survey, 1,595 Americans who participated in a Baylor Institute of Religion survey, and 1,252 people who participated in a study on purpose in life, happiness, and stress. The researchers also conducted an online survey of 3,322 participants and a separate daily diary study with 141 undergraduate students.

The researchers found that conservatives tended to report greater meaning and purpose in life than liberals across all five studies.

“This is a small but robust relationship that was found in 5 data sets that include representative samples from 16 countries; some of the data were collected as early as the early 1980s, some were collected as recently as 2017,” Newman told PsyPost. “We used a variety of techniques, including experience sampling.”

The relationship between conservative political beliefs and meaning in life remained significant even after controlling for the effect of religiosity.

In addition, “the effect on meaning in life was slightly stronger than the effect on life satisfaction, a measure of well-being that has dominated previous research,” Newman explained.

The study — like all research — includes some caveats.

“One important caveat worth mentioning is that the effect size is somewhat small,” Newman explained. “This means that not every conservative you meet will find more meaning in life than every liberal you meet. But the effect size is a bit bigger than the effect size reported in previous research that measured life satisfaction.”

“A question that still needs to be addressed is why conservatives find more meaning in life than liberals. Our results showed that it can’t be completely explained by the fact that conservatives are more religious than liberals and religious people find more meaning in life than non-religious people. But the results suggest it is more likely related to social conservative issues (e.g., views on abortion and gay rights) than economic conservative issues.”

The study, “Conservatives Report Greater Meaning in Life Than Liberals“, was authored by David B. Newman, Norbert Schwarz, Jesse Graham, and Arthur A. Stone.