Even though there are many things we can all do to improve our well-being, studies show that social welfare is the most straightforward path to people’s happiness.
Arguments against welfare states are many, including that it is costly, increases taxes can be unevenly distributed and can make people less motivated to work. However, states with vital welfare protect their populations against daily insecurities.
The most satisfying nations on the planet continue to be the Scandinavian countries. Since 2013, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have consistently featured in the top 10 of the World Happiness Report (WHR). Besides their cold, long, and dark winters, these countries have one other thing in common, and that is their welfare-state model.
EU Social Justice Index data was used by researchers Salvatore Di Martino and Isaac Prilleltensky to measure social justice’s role in happiness. This index scores countries in the EU on many factors that include unemployment levels for all citizens (including non-native ), healthcare and education equity for everyone, pensions, and even greenhouse gas emissions.
Nearly 170,000 individuals from 28 countries were interviewed for almost a decade. These were compared to the EU Social Justice Index scores, making sure to rule out contributing factors like age, gender, country’s GDP, and occupation.
The study concluded that better social and economic justice play a role in promoting happiness and are the second most crucial factor after social capital in happiness indexes.
Understanding the difference between social capital and welfare
Social capital matters more to people’s well-being. It includes the strength of family relationships, the ability to fit in socially, the degree of civic participation, and the level of trust in public institutions.
On the other hand, welfare or social justice provides security because they include secure pensions, healthcare coverage, child care, education, and even parental leave. These welfare policies allow individuals peace of mind to pursue the ambitions and be more productive. Countries often termed as welfare states also have fully paid longer state-mandated sick days, vacation days, family grants, and higher minimum guaranteed wages.
Another observation made by those studying people’s happiness is that social justice offers equal opportunities—these initiatives help build trust within communities and reduce discrimination toward migrants, asylum seekers, etc. Clearly, in countries where equal opportunities are not prevalent, people are unhappier and look for a scapegoat for their problems.
New Zealand is another example of a country that has prioritized welfare measures that ensure greater social equality. This prioritization has increased the happiness of its population.
Then again, the U.S. ranks near the bottom of the social justice ladder, and Americans’ happiness levels are dropping considerably. More inequality means that people react by increasing risky behavior as they try to achieve happiness. Risky behavior includes economic risks, gambling, and drug use, which lead to higher crime rates and poor health outcomes.
What is preventing most countries from implementing welfare?
Olof Palme, the late Swedish Prime Minister, once observed:” ‘With all its faults, the welfare state remains the most humane and civilized system ever created.”
For many countries, the excuse for not implementing welfare initiatives is their cost, but experts say it appears to benefit countries that implement it. According to the researcher, Salvatore Di Martino, he is about to publish a study showing a higher GDP in countries with more social justice.
The U.S. spends far more money than any other country on health care but cannot boast that everyone in the country can access comprehensive health care. The government spends far too little on other welfare essentials like education and social welfare. It has also been shown that over the year, various social security reforms instituted benefited the middle class more.
Other countries regularly found at the top of international comparisons of life satisfaction include Switzerland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. They have similar elements as the Scandinavian countries in place. The happiness of their populations is assured because of their high-quality state institutions. They have no corruption, but above all, they can take care of their citizens’ needs, no matter what calamities may befall them.
Societies with low trust factors between citizens and governments tend to be the unhappiest and most insecure. Their populations feel they cannot trust institutions, their willingness to pay taxes is reduced, and they feel less inclined to support reforms to allow the state to take better care of them.
Undeniably, robust welfare is the most straightforward path to happiness, but its implementation requires constructive pathways. Often these are impeded with feelings of distrust.