Monday, May 03, 2010

Blocked Ascendants and Frustrated Achievers

Carol Graham, in Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Unhappy Millionaires, found that the poor people who stay poor are often happier than people who are rising out of poverty. She notes, as many happiness researchers have found, that happiness rises as income rises up to a midpoint, then flattens out at the higher levels of income. In her surveys of many developing countries, Graham found that the least happy were those she called "frustrated achievers." These are people who are rising educationally and economically, but are stymied. In developing economies there are many people with more education and ambition than the economy can absorb. They have a broader view of the possibilities of advancement than the peasants, so it bothers them more than they can't reach their (new) goals.

I was reminded of one of the interesting ideas that came of the massive studies of worldwide religious fundamentalism that Martin Marty and his associates conducted in the 1990s. They found that a fertile field from which to recruit fundamentalists was among people with modern education who were nonetheless unable to find a place in the modern sector of the economy. The Marty team called such people "blocked ascendants."

It makes sense to me that frustrated achievers and blocked ascendants - who appear to be the same people - are both unhappy with the way their society is organized, and open to a suggestion that things would be better if society were restored to a previous, God-given order. I don't know if fundamentalism makes people any happier, but it would make their lives feel more meaningful.


Asaide said...

Maybe we are educating too many people to such a high degree that they are unemployable and become resentful. In Muslim communities we know what some of them choose to do. May be another example of unintended consequences.

randy said...

yep. same goes for the u.s. too...the notion that one 'needs' a college education is silly. and a lot of people in college now have no real business being there-in fact, they just dumb it down for the ones who SHOULD be there.