What wealth-happiness paradox? A short note on the American case
- 1.2k Downloads
Happiness scholars have tried to resolve the seeming paradox that as Americans’ wealth increased substantially over the last few decades, their happiness did not. This article questions whether the paradox is real. Demonstrations of the paradox almost always rely on GDP per capita as the measure of wealth, but that is a poor measure of a people’s well-being. It is heavily and increasingly skewed; it does not account for effort. Using instead measures of household income, male income, and average wages eliminates the paradox; these indicators of affluence have grown only slowly or declined in the same period, paralleling the changes in happiness scores. Moreover, using these indicators reveals a modest but real correlation between material well-being and national happiness.
KeywordsHappiness Income Paradox Easterlin Wealth Measurement Method
I appreciate comments on an earlier draft by Richard Easterlin, Michael Hout, Ruut Veenhoven, and Rafael Di Tella, but I, of course, remain solely responsible for errors of understanding and method.
- Alesina, A., Di Tella, R., & MacCulloch, R. (2001). Inequality and happiness: Are Europeans and Americans different? National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. W8198Google Scholar
- DeNavas-Walt, C., Proctor, B. D., & Lee, C. H. (2006). Income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States: 2005. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-231, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
- Easterlin, R. A. (1973). Does money buy happiness? The Public Interest, 30, 3–10Google Scholar
- Fischer, C. S., & Hout, M. (2006). Century of difference: How America changed in the last hundred years. New York: Russell Sage FoundationGoogle Scholar
- Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2002). Happiness and economics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University PressGoogle Scholar
- Hout, M. (2006). Money and morale. Working Paper, Survey Research Center, University of California, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
- Lane, R. E. (2000). The loss of happiness in market democracies. New Haven: Yale University PressGoogle Scholar
- Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: Why more is less. New York: EccoGoogle Scholar
- Veenhoven, R. (2000). Freedom and happiness: A comparative study in 46 nations in the early 1990’s. In E. Diener & E. M. Suh (Eds.), Culture and subjective well-being (pp. 257–288). Cambridge, MA: MIT PressGoogle Scholar
- Veenhoven, R. (2006). World database of happiness. Erasmus University Rotterdam. Available at: http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nlGoogle Scholar