Perceiving society as unjust reduces life satisfaction, but this effect is weaker in countries with higher religiosity

The extent that a person perceives injustice within their society tends to coincide with reduced life satisfaction. Interestingly, a study published in Personality and Individual Differences found evidence that living in a country with greater religiosity weakens this effect. The researchers propose that religious cultural contexts cultivate a worldview that helps people distance themselves from societal injustice.

A consistent finding throughout the literature is that the link between perceived societal injustice and well-being is weaker among people who are more religious. It seems that religiosity can shield people from the negative impact of an unfair society, but it remains unclear why.

Researchers Mohsen Joshanloo and his team specifically wanted to explore whether it is an individual’s religiosity that drives this effect, or if it is the religiosity of the culture they live in. To explore this, the scholars conducted a multi-level study among 136 countries to assess the effects of both individual-level and societal-level religiosity.

Data was obtained from the Gallup World Poll, which included responses from over 350,000 participants from 136 countries. Four items were considered to reflect perceptions of societal injustice. These items addressed confidence in the police, confidence in the justice system, perceptions of how poor people are treated in society, and perceptions of how women are treated. The surveys also included a measure of religiosity and perceived life satisfaction.

As a measure of societal-level religiosity, the researchers referred to a country-level religiosity index, which provided values for each country based on the percentage of individuals within that country who report that religion is an important part of their daily life.

In line with previous studies, the researchers found that the more respondents perceived societal injustice, the lower their life satisfaction. This relationship was strong and held across countries. However, the association was weaker among people living in countries with greater religiosity, even after controlling for a country’s economic prosperity and societal freedom.

Importantly, religiosity at the individual level was not significantly related to life satisfaction, and neither was the interplay between individual-level religiosity and perceived injustice. According to the study authors, this suggests that the effect of religiosity on the link between perceived injustice and well-being has to do with aspects of the religious cultural environment rather than aspects of personal religiosity.

For instance, Joshanloo and colleagues point out that religious societies tend to be especially hierarchical, and therefore, might be more accepting of injustice. These types of cultures tend to focus on supporting ingroup solidarity rather than attending to societal injustice.

“Individuals in these cultural settings are socialized to occasionally cultivate detachment from worldly concerns, such as injustice and inequality, and focus on treading the path to personal salvation, whether salvation is contentment in this life or blessings and rewards in some heralded afterlife,” Joshanloo and team explain. This mindset might offer people comfort when witnessing societal issues, by relieving them of the cultural pressure to fight injustice and encouraging them to concentrate on their own personal path.

The authors say that one strength of their study is its large, global sample although this meant that measures were limited to the data available in the Gallup World Poll. They suggest that future studies should attempt to replicate their findings using additional scales of perceived societal injustice.

The study, “Cultural religiosity moderates the relationship between perceived societal injustice and satisfaction with one’s life”, was authored by Mohsen Joshanloo, Dan Weijers, and Michael Harris Bond.

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