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Sunday Shopping Linked with Less Happiness

Sunday Shopping Linked with Less Happiness

September 7, 2010

Social Sciences & Humanities

The New York Times — How do you spend your Sunday? For many, this traditional day of rest and churchgoing has become a day to shop, but it may be taking a toll on happiness.

Researchers from DePaul University in Chicago and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel tracked church attendance and levels of happiness among Americans living in states that had repealed so-called blue laws, which once required most retailers to stay closed on Sundays.

The researchers found that allowing stores to open on Sundays was linked with a decline in church attendance among white women, which led to a subsequent decline in happiness. Among black women, the repeal of the blue laws had no measurable effect, although that may be because the sample size was too small to draw any statistically meaningful conclusions.

Notably, the finding was true only for women. For men, the repeal of blue laws didn’t seem to influence church attendance or levels of happiness.
Since the repeal of blue laws, women are about 17 percent less likely to report being “pretty happy,” and more likely to report being “not happy,” according to the study, which is still awaiting final publication.

“People know there is a correlation between religiosity and happiness, but there’s not conclusive evidence that there is a causal effect,’’ said William Sander, professor of economics at DePaul. “Our paper tends to provide more conclusive evidence that religiosity among women does affect happiness.’’

The researchers studied data collected from the General Social Survey, an ongoing sociological survey used to collect demographic information from United States residents. They compared respondents in 10 states where Sunday shopping had been banned and then allowed, compared with six states where there had been no change in rules for retailers. The study specifically focused on the behavior of Catholics and Protestants because they were most likely to attend church on Sundays.

So why would Sunday shopping make women less happy? Part of the reason may be that some of the women were required to work on Sundays after the repeal of blue laws. “People don’t like to work on Sundays,’’ Dr. Sander said.

Or the decline in women’s happiness once Sunday shopping is allowed may be linked to the behavior of their children, many of whom may start hanging out at shopping malls on Sundays. Earlier research has shown that the repeal of blue laws is linked with more risk-taking behavior by teens.

Or it may simply be that the lure of shopping is more powerful than the desire to attend church, even though it brings less happiness.

“Shopping is kind of addictive, and even though it doesn’t make people happy, they’re doing it and they don’t return to church as much because of that,’’ Dr. Sander said. “There is instant gratification from shopping compared to the benefits of church, which may occur over a longer period of time.’’