Cultural norms of health-related behaviour – A Case Study of Protestant and Catholic Communities in Northern Ireland.

Cultural transmission, how a group of people within a culture learn and pass on information, is an important mechanism underlying human behaviour, but empirical evidence from real world settings of how behaviours spread is still scarce. Northern Ireland is a unique context to explore these patterns, as two large groups Catholics and Protestants, historically holding different norms e.g. with regards to reproduction, live side by side. Even though Northern Ireland has become more integrated, there are still many areas that are predominantly Catholic or Protestant enabling testing hypotheses about cultural transmission.

In this project we explore how individual behaviour is affected by the composition of the local area of residence, with a special focus on “community background” (religion). A main objective is to examine which characteristics that are associated with a shift in behaviour for individuals that more to a new area. We will use data on two health-related measures based on individual medical prescriptions, i.e. contraceptive pills and antidepressants, and explore:

(i) adjusting for individual socioeconomic factors, and other area level characteristics

whether the use of contraception and antidepressants differ between Catholics and Protestants

(ii) whether individuals who are the minority within their residential area a, conform to the local norm, and b, suffer mental health costs (measured in terms of antidepressant prescription).

We anticipate that the outcomes of this project will throw light on the dynamics by which behaviours spread through a population and therefore have large implications for better understanding of health behaviours.

Research Team: Ms Caroline Uggla, Prof Ruth Mace and Mr Antonio Silva
Database: NILS
Project Status: Complete
Organisation(s): University College London