The Demographics of Humor

Humor is a funny thing. Different people use it in different ways.

I’ve touched on this topic in some previous blog posts. People with high self-esteem, for example, tend to use humor to build relationships with others. Undertakers, on the other hand, tend not to use it much at all.

Now, a new study from researchers in Chile and Switzerland reveals some of the demographic differences in people’s humor styles. The study found that people in different social groups or with different demographic traits seem to use humor slightly differently. No joke!

That conclusion came from looking at how often 1,272 adults in Chile said they used each of eight distinct types of humor.

One takeaway from the findings is that religious people might be a little less funny in general. Overall, people who were religious described using four of the eight types of humor less frequently.

Politics also influenced people’s humor preferences. Those with left-wing leanings reported more often employing cynical humor, which mocks common values or features of society, than people with right-wing leanings.

Cynical humor was also more frequently used among people with lower levels of education. On the other hand, wit, which the researchers characterized as quick comments that connect ideas in unexpected ways, was used disproportionately by people with high levels of education.

Older people tended to use six of the eight types of humor less, raising the possibility that maybe life just gets less funny over time.

That said, the researchers were careful to emphasize that in all these cases the differences were relatively small. To put it another way, someone’s individual traits will probably say much more about their sense of humor than their sociodemographic characteristics do.

You might ask why we really care who likes what kind of jokes. That’s a fair question, but keep in mind that humor can potentially serve important psychological and social purposes. Telling a joke, for example, can help people reframe negative situations in new ways. That suggests that humor might be decidedly serious thing, precisely because it’s not serious at all!