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Why poverty probably takes graver mental toll on an American than on an Indian

Study by psychology scholars from seven institutes claims religiosity can ease impact of economic hardships on psychological well-being. It was published in PNAS journal.

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New Delhi: Poverty probably causes more suffering in the US than in India and this is likely because the latter, as a developing nation, has a deeper sense of national religiosity. 

So suggests a new study that claims religiosity can ease the impact of economic hardships on people’s psychological well-being.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed PNAS journal last week, has been conducted by psychology scholars from seven institutes around the world. The team was led by Jana B. Berkessel of Germany’s Manheim University.

The researchers set out to investigate the role of national religiosity in light of “recent evidence” that suggests the psychological burden of a lower socio-economic status (SES) “is even greater in developed nations than in developing ones”.  

This, they note, runs contrary to the long-held assumption that the harm caused by a lower SES on psychological well-being weakens as nations develop economically. This assumption, they say, is “based on the idea that developed nations provide more welfare services, thereby allowing people of lower SES to better meet their basic needs”. 

National religiosity, they add, is particularly low in developed nations.

Among the potential reasons they cite is that religious texts across different faiths — from Hinduism to Islam and Christianity — seek to project the poor as closer to God while looking down on greed.

Calling for a deeper study of their conclusion, the researchers say the findings are important because as “national religiosity continues to decline, lower SES will become increasingly harmful for well-being — a societal change that is socially consequential and demands political attention”.

“The challenge will be to find alternatives to national religiosity to curb those harmful effects. Such alternatives will not be easily found because national religiosity exerts particularly powerful effects,” they write. 

“The anticipated difficulty of finding alternatives to national religiosity suggests that the search for such alternatives should start sooner rather than later and it should be a collective effort by social scientists and policymakers.”


Also Read: Indians support religious tolerance, but prefer to live & marry within community: Pew survey


Gita, Quran, Bible, Bodhisattvacharyavatara 

The researchers drew on three “different data sets of 1,567,204, 1,493,207, and 274,393 people across 156, 85, and 92 nations… to show that low levels of national religiosity can account for the greater burden of lower SES in developed nations”. 

These include the Gallup World Poll, the Gosling-Potter Internet Personality Project (IPP), and the World Values Survey (WVS), respectively.

While the Gallup World Poll is conducted by the eponymous US-based company that conducts surveys in 160 countries on various indicators, the IPP is described as “a collection of web pages devoted to the academic study of personality”, a “joint product of the members of the Personality, Motivation and Cognition laboratory at Northwestern University” in the US.

The WVS is an international research program devoted to the scientific and academic study of social, political, economic, religious and cultural values of people in the world”. It “was started in 1981 by its founder… Professor Ronald Inglehart from the University of Michigan (USA) and his team, and since then has been operating in more than 120 world societies”.

Through statistical modelling, they first sought to establish that negative impacts of low socioeconomic status are more amplified in developed nations compared to developing economies. Then, they studied, again through modelling, if the harmful effects of lower SES on well-being are attenuated in more religious countries.

Third, they “tested the core hypothesis that national religiosity accounts for the attenuated effect of lower SES on well-being in developing nations” by combining the first two models.

“The results of models 1 through 3 suggest that national religiosity can explain why the psychological burden of lower SES is amplified in developed nations,” they add.

While the authors do not explain why or how religion causes such an impact, they do cite the messages given out by religious texts such as the Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Bodhisattvacharyavatara.

“Among the religious norms that enable cultural groups to thrive is a set relevant for SES. That set eases the burden of lower SES and it does so, in part, by casting a bad light on higher SES,” the study states. 

The quotes cited in this context is this one from the Quran — “The poor are admitted into Paradise before the rich, by five hundred years” [Vol. 5, Book 37, Hadith 4261] and another from the Bodhisattvacharyavatara: “For those who are poor and destitute; May I turn into all things they could need” [Ch. 3, Verse 10]. 

Says the Bible, it adds, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” [Matthew 19:24], and the Bhagavad Gita, “The demoniac person thinks: So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more” [Ch. 16, Verse 13].

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)


Also Read: Pew findings show Indians live religiously segregated. Blame the State


 

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