Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 1465–1483 | Cite as

Do Equal Rights for a Minority Affect General Life Satisfaction?

  • Niclas BerggrenEmail author
  • Christian Bjørnskov
  • Therese Nilsson
Research Paper


While previous research examines how institutions matter for general life satisfaction and how specific institutions embodying equal rights for gay people matter for the life satisfaction of gays, we combine these two issues to analyze how the latter type of institutions relates to general life satisfaction. The question is how people in general are affected by laws treating everyone equally irrespective of sexual orientation. We find that legal recognition of partnership, marriage and adoption rights, as well as an equal age of consent, relate positively to general life satisfaction. Consequently, same-sex marriage and similar reforms come at no “welfare” cost to society at large—if anything, the opposite appears to hold. We further build on previous research showing positive effects of economic freedom on happiness and on tolerance towards gay people and interact our rights measure with economic freedom. This reveals that the positive effect on general happiness of equal rights mainly appears in countries with low economic freedom. This likely follows because minority rights are perceived to indicate openness to much-desired reforms in other areas.


Life satisfaction Same-sex marriage Rights Institutions Culture Immigration Tolerance Gays and lesbians Minorities Integration 



The authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet, Grant 2103-734, Berggren and Nilsson), Torsten Söderberg’s Foundation (Grant E1/14, Berggren and Nilsson), the Czech Science Foundation (GA ČR, Grant 16-19934S, Berggren and Nilsson) and the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation (Bjørnskov) for financial support.


  1. Alexander, A. C., Inglehart, R., & Welzel, C. (2016). Emancipating sexuality: Breakthroughs into a bulwark of tradition. Social Indicators Research, 129, 909–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, G. S. (1971). The economics of discrimination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berggren, N., Bjørnskov, C., & Nilsson, T. (in press). What aspects of society matter for the quality of life of a minority? Global evidence from the new Gay Happiness Index. Social Indicators Research.Google Scholar
  4. Berggren, N., & Nilsson, T. (2013). Does economic freedom foster tolerance? Kyklos, 66(2), 177–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berggren, N., & Nilsson, T. (2016). Tolerance in the United States: Does economic freedom transform racial, religious, political and sexual attitudes? European Journal of Political Economy, 45, 53–70.Google Scholar
  6. Bjørnskov, C., Dreher, A., & Fischer, J. A. V. (2010). Formal institutions and subjective well-being: Revisiting the cross-country evidence. European Journal of Political Economy, 26(4), 419–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bjørnskov, C., & Tsai, M.-C. (2015). How do institutions affect happiness and misery? A tale of two tails. Comparative Sociology, 14(1), 353–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cretney, S. M. (2003). Family law in the twentieth century: A history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. De Tocqueville, A. (2010) [1835]. Democracy in America. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
  10. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2000). Happiness, economy and institutions. Economic Journal, 110(466), 918–938.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2009). Should national happiness be maximized? In A. K. Duff & B. Radcliff (Eds.), Happiness, economics and politics (pp. 301–323). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  12. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2012). The use of happiness research for public policy. Social Choice and Welfare, 38(4), 659–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gates, G. J. (2011). How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender? Los Angeles: The Williams Institute, UCLA. Available from, Accessed 5 May 2016.Google Scholar
  14. Gehring, K. (2013). Who benefits from economic freedom? Unraveling the effect of economic freedom on subjective well-being. World Development, 50(October), 74–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gwartney, J. D., Lawson, R. A., & Hall, J. E. (2015). Economic freedom of the world: 2015 annual report. Vancover: The Fraser Institute.Google Scholar
  16. Hall, J. C., & Lawson, R. A. (2014). Economic freedom of the world: An accounting for the literature. Contemporary Economic Policy, 32(1), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heckelman, J. C., & Stroup, M. D. (2005). A comparison of aggregation methods for measures of economic freedom. European Journal of Political Economy, 21, 953–956.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Helliwell, J. F., & Huang, W. (2008). How’s your government? International evidence linking good government and well-being. British Journal of Political Science, 38(4), 595–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Herek, G. M. (2000). The psychology of sexual prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(1), 19–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hirschman, A. O., & Rothschild, M. (1973). The changing tolerance for income inequality in the course of economic development. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 87(4), 544–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. ILGA. (2015). State-sponsored homophobia: A world survey of laws: Criminalisation, protection and recognition of same-sex love. Geneva: ILGA.Google Scholar
  22. Inglehart, R., & Abramson, P. R. (1999). Measuring postmaterialism. American Political Science Review, 93(3), 665–677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Inglehart, R., Foa, R., Peterson, P., & Welzel, C. (2008). Development, freedom and rising happiness. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 264–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Layard, R. E. (2006). Happiness and public policy: A challenge to the profession. Economic Journal, 116(510), C24–C33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McCannon, B. C. (2014). Trust, reciprocity and a preference for economic freedom: experimental evidence. Journal of Institutional Economics, 10(3), 451–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mill, J. S. (2007) [1859]. On liberty and the subjection of women. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  27. Mueller, D. C. (2003). Public choice III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state and utopia. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  29. Ovaska, T., & Takashima, R. (2010). Does a rising tide lift all the boats? Explaining the national inequality of happiness. Journal of Economic Issues, 44(1), 205–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Radcliff, B. (2001). Politics, markets and life satisfaction: The political economy of human happiness. American Political Science Review, 95(4), 939–952.Google Scholar
  31. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  32. Rode, M. (2013). Do good institutions make citizens happy, or do happy citizens build better institutions? Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(5), 1479–1505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rode, M., & Coll, S. (2012). Economic freedom and growth. Which policies matter the most? Constitutional Political Economy, 23, 95–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sobel, R. S., & Coyne, C. J. (2011). Cointegrating institutions: The time series properties of country institutional measures. Journal of Law and Economics, 54, 111–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stroup, M. D. (2007). Economic freedom, democracy, and the quality of life. World Development, 35, 52–66.Google Scholar
  36. Sullivan, A. (1989). Here comes the groom: A (conservative) case for gay marriage. The New Republic, 28 August, 20–22.Google Scholar
  37. Sunstein, C. R. (1996). On the expressive function of law. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 144, 2021–2053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2016). Changes in American adults’ reported same-sex sexual experiences and attitudes, 1973–2014. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 1713–1730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vis, B. (2010). Politics of risk taking: Welfare state reform in advanced democracies. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN)StockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of Institutional, Environmental and Experimental Economics (KIE)University of Economics in PraguePrague 3Czech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Economics and BusinessAarhus UniversityAarhus VDenmark
  4. 4.Department of EconomicsLund UniversityLundSweden

Personalised recommendations