Investigating traits of the vegetarian personality

Pfeiler, T.M.M., Egloff, B. (2017) Examining the "veggie" personality: Results from a representative German sample. SOEP papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research, No. 941

Dietary trends towards vegetarianism and veganism have been increasingly demonstrable over recent years in the Western context, for reasons including concern over animal welfare, environment and health.  Prior studies have indicated that dietary behaviour is associated with the ‘Big Five’ personality traits and political attitudes, although there has been some inconsistency in findings and a paucity of studies using samples representative of entire populations.  The purpose of this research was to explore how social demographic influences dietary choice, and how personality, politics and health variables differ between vegetarians and meat-eaters, using samples representative of the German population.

Subjects were drawn from the German Socio-Economic Panel, considered representative of the national population.  Study 1 involved 4496 subjects (52% female, 48% male; average age 52 years), with subjects self-reporting as vegetarian (including vegan) or meat-eaters.  Study 2 involved 5125 subjects (52% female, 47% male, 1% non-reporting gender; average age 52 years) and used a broader definition of vegetarianism, i.e. inclusive of those who predominantly, but not necessarily exclusively, followed a vegetarian diet.  75% of subjects in Study 2 had also been sampled in Study 1, hence the studies were not independent. 

There is strong evidence for individual differences between vegetarians and meat-eaters

For socio-demographic variables, results from both studies indicated that vegetarians were more likely to be female, younger, and higher-educated than meat-eaters (Studies 1 and 2), and also reported higher income than meat-eaters (Study 2).  For personality traits, vegetarians scored higher than meat-eaters for traits of openness and political interest (both in Study 1 and 2), and lower than meat-eaters for traits of conscientiousness (Study 1) and conservatism (Study 1 and 2).  Vegetarians were also more trusting (Study 1 and 2) and optimistic (Study 2) than meat-eaters.  For health variables, vegetarians reported better health status than meat-eaters (Studies 1 and 2). 

These findings broadly supported indications from prior studies.  However, on account of the robust representative sampling, this study offers the strongest evidence to date for the existence of individual differences in age, sex, education, income, personality and political attitudes between vegetarians and meat-eaters, including for those who predominantly, but not exclusively, follow a vegetarian diet.  As the study investigated associations rather than causality, causative factors (and their direction) in relation to diet and individual differences cannot be elaborated at present.  Authors did not indicate the purpose for which these findings would be utilised, but suggested that further research incorporating actual meat consumption and exploring effects of differing motivations for vegetarianism/veganism could be informative to build upon this work.

World Animal Protection’s view

Dietary choice, particularly in high-income, high-consuming countries, is closely linked with global issues of food security, water scarcity, human health and climate change, in addition to the clear implications for animal welfare associated with the consumption of animal products.  As awareness and concern about these issues increases, we anticipate and encourage a greater shift towards vegetarian and vegan diets as a means of supporting more sustainable food production systems as well as reducing animal suffering as a consequence of intensive farming systems.