The Protestant Work Ethic & Modern Frugality

Protestant work ethic, colonial business, martin luther

The white Martin Luther…

I consider myself a very hard worker.  There might be harder workers out there, but I am sure they are immigrants[1].  Out of the red blooded, jerky chewing Americans I consider myself a very hard worker.  Well, there might be harder workers out there in fields like medicine or law, but I am sure their higher intellects make it feel less hard.  So out of red blooded, jerky chewing Americans not working in the medical or law field I consider myself a very hard worker.  Aside from entrepreneurs… and single mothers… or James Franco…probably most social workers… definitely protestants… oh my God… am I lazy?

The Protestant Work Ethic

Protestants worked so hard they made the average colonial worker’s 15 hour day look like a lunch break.  They believed that hard work, frugality and success were signs of God’s favor—that you were predestined for heaven.  Under this belief, the unemployed weren’t just lazy; they were damned sinners offending God.  The modern day Tea Party must have read the protestant handbook.

 Modern Frugality

Modern frugality is less about making more and more about mooring more of what you make[2].  Work ethic isn’t necessarily at the for-front of things; it looms in the background like an awkward cousin at Thanksgiving.  A holistic perspective on success and finances has replaced the single minded goal of attaining financial success.  It would be fair to say that modern frugality is proactively helpful and views itself as something that can help society, while Protestants built society[3].  Touché, Protestants.

 The Evolution

The Protestant work ethic morphed gradually into modern frugality as gains in technology facilitated automation, and as child labor laws gradually become less parent-friendly.  The freed up time allowed for a focus on what to do with one’s money, rather than simply how to make more of it.  Increases in consumer options brought about thriftiness.

Gradually, society has recognized that being a caring parent or friend is more valuable than berating your children for not spindling fast enough or not buckling their hats, shoes and shirt properly.  So although modern frugality is the great-great-great grandchild of the Protestant Work ethic, it has allowed itself a broader perspective on life[4].  Those following the tenants of modern frugality are constantly looking for ways to maximize their money, and thus time.  Many also are always on the lookout for ways to make more money.   This is all very Protestant.  Now if we can just start wearing those buckles again…

Do you think the Protestant work ethic has evolved into modern frugality?  Or do you think modern frugality stems from other things?

[1] So they don’t count because I don’t understand their language.  I wish I did, we might have a lot in common… I wonder if they watch Hockey?

[2] I think that makes sense.

[3] Albeit one for white males who were employed.

[4] Something its great-great-great grandfather would surely condemn.

About Mitchell Pauly

Mitchell Pauly is a humorist, financial professional and entrepreneur. Follow him @Snarkfinance, and be sure to check out his website- You can learn more about him by visiting his Google+ profile.


  1. The Tea Party TALKS like old-day protestants. Actually working hard? It’s far more fun to complain about “those people” than it is to actually toil……

    I love your point, though (not the one about hockey, but about work ethic for work ethic’s sake). Are people frugal just because we think “we should be frugal?” I find that annoying and much prefer frugality that allows me to spend less on stuff that doesn’t matter so I can go “all in” on anything that I really care about.
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  2. “The White Martin Luther…” totally cracked me up. It’s sort of like “pork, the other white meat”. Sorry, got distracted for a minute. I definitely think that a lot of our country’s notions about work and working hard come (for better and sometimes worse) from the protestants.
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