Personal responsibility could help explain why conservatives are healthier than liberals

Research has found that political conservatives tend to be healthier than their liberal counterparts. Now, a new study in Personality and Individual Differences provides one possible reason why; because conservatives place an emphasis on personal responsibility.

“I’ve always been interested in people’s political beliefs, and always believed that such a trenchant way of seeing the world doesn’t simply affect people’s votes at the ballots but can influence how they live their lives, including how they see and maintain their health,” said Eugene Y. Chan, the author of the study and senior lecturer at Monash University.

An initial survey of 194 individuals found that conservatives placed greater value on personal responsibility, which in turn was linked to better physical health.

In a follow-up study with 204 participants, conservatives were more likely to use stairs rather than take an elevator after being asked to go to an upper floor. This again was associated with conservatives’ greater perceived need to be responsible for themselves

In another study with 204 participants, Chan found that smokers primed with words related to political conservatism (such as “traditional” and “conventional”) were more likely to express a desire to quit than smokers primed with words related to political liberalism (such as “free” and “left-wing.”)

“There’s been a lot of work in sociology showing that conservatives generally (but not always!) are healthier, but we just don’t know why. This gap motivated my work,” Chan told PsyPost.

“We now know that conservatives may (emphasize may!) be healthier because they feel more personally-responsible for their own health. It’s all very similar to the Protestant Work Ethic, the idea that you need to be responsible for your own self.”

The findings provide one explanation for why conservatives tend to be healthier than liberals. But it is likely that a host of factors are involved.

“Political ideology is interesting, but terribly difficult to study. Causation is almost impossible. Most work, including mine, relies on correlational studies, so we can’t conclusively say that conservatives are healthier because of personal responsibility, just that the findings indicate a relationship between them,” Chan said.