It’s not a new question. What builds a better society: big government or an independent, yet strong community?
A new study argues that the two concepts are not interchangeable, but also says both can foster good health.
“Some people might like the argument that liberal government automatically leads to healthier people, because it supports their worldview,” said Mitchel Herian, a faculty fellow with the University of Nebraska’s Public Policy Center and lead researcher on the new study. “But in the absence of a liberal government, you also see better levels of health if you have a strong community.”
The study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, evaluated data from previous surveys involving more than 450,000 people nationwide. The study found that states with high levels of liberalism — and thus more government involvement — and those with high levels of social trust each had higher levels of health.
When it comes to the two not being interchangeable, researchers gave this example:
People who live in a California city might have liberal political beliefs but mistrust their neighbors, Herian said, while those who live in a small Texas town might mistrust government but count on their neighbors.
Ed Diener, a psychologist with the University of Illinois and study co-author, said liberals will argue for government programs while conservatives will argue in favor of individual responsibility.
“When government programs are in place, people tend to be healthier. But when government programs are weaker, a person with lots of close ties and social capital can still be healthy,” he said. “Their wife can get them to exercise, their friends can help them not drink too much, and their support for each other may directly affect their health. Loneliness is bad for health.
“It might be government programs, or it might be ‘social capital’ — having supportive others around us — that can influence our health beyond just each of us doing the right things,” Diener added.
The researchers think these findings could be used to help make public policy decisions depending on the community.
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