Are the unemployed equally unhappy all around the world? The role of the social norms to work and welfare state provision in 28 OECD countries

Olga Stavrova*, Thomas Schloesser, Detlef Fetchenhauer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines cross-national and temporal variations in the effect of personal unemployment on life satisfaction. To account for these variations we consider the social norm to work and national systems of unemployment benefits. Following the social psychological approach to social norms (Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990) we differentiate between descriptive, societal injunctive and personal injunctive norms. We use the national unemployment rates as a proxy of the descriptive norm to work. The societal injunctive norm and the personal injunctive norm to work are conceptualized as society's vs. personal attitudes towards working for a living versus living off public funds, respectively.

The results of the multilevel regression analysis of the data from 28 OECD countries (European and World Values Survey, 1999-2009) suggest that the single country characteristic that could explain contextual variations in the unemployment effect is the societal injunctive norm to work: unemployment hurts less in societies with more tolerant attitudes towards being out of work. This effect holds even after controlling for the national level of unemployment benefits and the personal injunctive norm to work. We conclude that the negative effect of personal unemployment in societies with a strong societal injunctive norm to work is so much higher due to social pressure and disapproval and not to the perception that one does not live up to their own standards. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-171
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Descriptive norms
  • Injunctive norms
  • Unemployment
  • Survey
  • Life satisfaction
  • Conformity
  • Welfare state

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