Generous unemployment benefits do not make jobless citizens lazy, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have determined that in 28 European countries, higher levels of benefit correspond to lower levels of life satisfaction among the unemployed. The findings challenge current conservative rhetoric holding jobless people responsible for perpetuating their own hardship.

The study, which used unemployment data from the central statistics office of the European Commission and the European Values Study, sought to determine whether an individual’s willingness to find a job diminishes as benefits increase. To find out, the researchers asked jobless people in 28 countries to complete a survey designed to assess satisfaction with life and social situations.

To their surprise, they found that countries offering the most generous benefits also reported some of the lowest levels of unemployment satisfaction. For example, Sweden and Luxembourg reported top figures for both benefits and dissatisfaction. Conversely, in Romania, Poland, and other nations with low benefit levels, jobless citizens were among the least likely to report dissatisfaction.

According to lead investigator Jan Eichhorn, the results suggest that financial stability has a limited effect on life satisfaction among the unemployed. Factors like public perception and socio-economic position appear to be significantly more germane. “Those who claim that greater unemployment benefits lead to less motivation for people to seek employment should think again,” Eichhorn explained. “For most people, it is not the degree of state provisions that determines how they personally feel about the experience of being unemployed."

“Unemployment does not just result in a loss of income, but also a change in social position — that is perceived differently in different societies,” he added.

The findings thus challenge some of the arguments used to advance a set of sweeping reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in September. Republicans advocating the polarizing bill claimed that the proposed $40 billion cut would galvanize the market and help unemployed people find the necessary motivation. “This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most. Most people don't chose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) "Most people want to go out and be productive so that they can earn a living, so that they can support a family, so that they can have hope for a more prosperous future. They want what we want."

Judging by the current findings, this type of rhetoric ultimately founders on the fact that financial factors do not influence sufficiently the mindset of the unemployed. Benefits, it would seem, neither deters nor incentivizes a jobless citizen. Instead, what drives this motivation is quite simply the social desire to be anything but unemployed.