A new study by professors from Baylor University and the University of Arkansas shows that, despite a 10% decline in union membership over the past 30 years, union members are happier and have greater satisfaction in their lives than non-union members. In a New York Times article titled “Want to Be Happy? Join a Union”, the two professors talk about their research:
[A] recent study may give some workers reason to reconsider [union membership]. For those who belong to a union, membership seems to bring a benefit that perhaps surpasses better wages or generous health insurance: higher life satisfaction.
The study authors, Patrick Flavin, an assistant professor at Baylor University, and Gregory Shufeldt, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, used data from five different years between the early 1980s and mid-2000s, conducted in the United States, of the World Values Survey, a research project focusing on people’s beliefs. As they write in the report, they found that “union members are more satisfied with their lives than those who are not members and that the substantive effect of union membership on life satisfaction is large and rivals other common predictors of quality of life.” […]
In their study, they tease out four “pathways” by which being a union member might improve quality of life compared with not being a member: “These include having greater satisfaction with one’s experiences while working, feeling greater job security, being afforded numerous opportunities for social interaction and integration, and enhancing the participatory benefits associated with more engaged democratic citizenship.” […]
“We believe the substantive effect of being a union member on subjective well-being is important and relatively large when compared to other typical predictors,” the authors told Op-Talk.
In their study, Flavin and Shufeldt controlled for a wide variety of variables and showed that these higher levels of happiness and satisfaction are not related to things like gender, marital status, or having a larger income. No matter what your personal situation is, union membership makes your life better.
This is unsurprising to me. Being part of a group that is working toward improving the lives of ALL workers is a gift. It lets you know that you’re not alone and that you have shared values with people that care about others. There is great satisfaction in that.
There are well-funded corporate-backed forces who have spent enormous resources to demonize union members and we must never let them succeed in portraying our brothers and sisters as greedy for having the audacity to want better working conditions, a decent salary, and reasonable benefits. While they like to paint union members as “thugs”, remember that these people teach our children, keep us safe, and staff the government offices that provide the vital services we all use. They build our homes and businesses, fight fires, and repair our roads. In other words, they are our neighbors, our families, and our friends, and, thanks to their union membership, are happier, more satisfied people.
And, as the authors of the report put it, “If our paper could give any advice to labor unions, it is hopefully that we can give new meaning to the adage, ‘don’t mourn, organize.’”