People in Protestant countries work harder because they feel guiltier about taking time off, a study has found.
And while unemployment generally makes all people unhappy, it is twice as likely seriously to affect the mental wellbeing of Protestants as those of other denominations.
The findings suggest that the economic downturn may have had a far more serious effect on people in Britain than other countries, with joblessness more likely to have led to depression among Christian workers.
Scientists from Holland studied more than 150,000 people in 82 countries to find out whether there was any truth behind the notion of a Protestant work ethic.
The countries deemed historically Protestant by the researchers, from Groningen University, included the UK, the US Australia, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
They found those who were unemployed in all countries said they were less happy when out of work, regardless of religious denomination, but this was exacerbated among those in Protestant countries.
In fact, Protestants are generally 40 per cent less happy when unemployed than others, they reported.
Researchers took into account a number of factors which could have skewed results - such as marital status, age, gender, income, education and health.
Dutch economist Dr André van Hoorn, who led the study, said: ‘The negative effect of unemployment on self-reported happiness was twice as strong for Protestants compared with non-Protestants.
‘We found that the work ethic does exist and that individual Protestants and historically Protestant societies appear to value work much more than others.
‘At the individual level, unemployment hurts Protestants much more than it does non-Protestants. Protestantism causes a stronger work ethic.
‘Interestingly, it is not so much Protestant individuals who are hurt more by being unemployed as it is individuals - both Protestants and non-Protestants - living in Protestant societies.’
He added that the results supported sociologist Max Weber’s idea that a strong work ethic is something which has evolved from historical Protestantism, rather than contemporary interpretations of Protestantism.
Weber first came up with the notion of a Protestant work ethic in 1904, suggesting that the religious concept of achieving God-given grace through frugality and working hard was one of the crucibles of capitalism.
Despite the theory being widely accepted since, the Dutch researchers sought to test it.
Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University, said the study ‘shows that the Protestant work ethic is alive and kicking’.
He added: ‘It was very evident during the Thatcher and Blair years and the current coalition emphasis on the negative aspects of benefits are also evidence of it.
‘It is very much a cultural thing. In the UK, for example, people work for achievement; in the US, with fewer safety nets - no redundancy [pay] for example - fear is likely a driver.
‘I think 2008 made some differences. People who had followed the work ethic for years found themselves without a job. All the sacrifices - working long hours, not seeing the kids - had not worked out.
'We may find that’s damaged the work ethic and people are putting less focus on work and more on a balance between work and the rest of their life.’
Journal article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167268113000838