Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 397–420 | Cite as

Level and Inequality of Happiness in Nations: Does Greater Happiness of a Greater Number Imply Greater Inequality in Happiness?



Utilitarians and egalitarians have different priorities. Utilitarians prioritize the greatest level of happiness in society and are prepared to accept inequality, while egalitarians prioritize the smallest differences and are willing to accept a loss of happiness for this purpose. In theory these moral tenets conflict, but do they really clash in practice? This question is answered in two steps. First I consider the relation between level and inequality of happiness in nations; level of happiness is measured using average responses to a survey question on life satisfaction and inequality is measured with the standard deviation. There appears to be a strong negative correlation; in nations where average happiness is high, the standard deviation tends to be low. This indicates harmony instead of tension. Secondly I consider the institutional factors that are likely to affect happiness. It appears that level and equality of happiness depend largely on the same institutional context, which is another indication for harmony. We may conclude that the discussion between utilitarians and egalitarians is of little practical importance. This conclusion implies that increasing income inequality can go together with decreasing inequality in happiness and this conclusion provides moral support for Governments developing modern market economics


happiness convergence life satisfaction income wealth utilitarianism egalitarianism 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Erasmus University RotterdamThe Netherlands

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