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Here's why people want to help the sick but not the unemployed

“People everywhere seem to have this deep-seated intuition that ill people are unfortunate and deserve to be helped.”

Image: Shutterstock/nito

ACROSS THE WORLD – Ireland included – spending on healthcare has risen, but unemployment protections have stayed more or less stagnant.

Part of the reason for that could because of something rooted deep in our psyches, new research from Aarhus University in Denmark suggests.

“Why do people generally prefer helping the ill and not the unemployed?” This is the question posed by two professors in political science, Carsten Jensen and Michael Bang Petersen, from Aarhus University.

Using techniques to uncover people’s implicit intuitions, the researchers explored the fundamental differences behind our attitudes towards unemployment benefits and healthcare. According to the researchers, the differences may be found in the evolutionary history of our species.

For millions of years, a need for health care reflected accidents such as broken legs or random infections. Evolution could therefore have built our psychology to think about illnesses in this way, as something we have no control over.

“People everywhere seem to have this deep-seated intuition that ill people are unfortunate and deserve to be helped,” Bang Petersen explains.

This despite the changing nature of illnesses and the fact that many illnesses are caused by lifestyle.

Increased healthcare spending is often explained by the supply of health — i.e. the costs of new technology and medicine. But the researchers from Aarhus University argue that when it comes to the rising costs of healthcare, we are also dealing with demand. Politicians find it hard not to accommodate people’s demand for better healthcare, and no one wants to be seen as responsible for a health scandal.

“This means that the policies in the areas of health care and unemployment are very different, as we all more or less agree on the goal in healthcare, while we deeply disagree on whether or not unemployed people deserve help.”

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