International Review of Economics

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 199–213 | Cite as

If not only GDP, what else? Using relational goods to predict the trends of subjective well-being

  • Stefano Bartolini
  • Ennio Bilancini


In the last decade, a lively interdisciplinary discussion has grown around the evidence that, in the long-run, people’s subjective well-being is not significantly correlated with income growth. In other words, GDP growth does not predict the long run growth of subjective well-being. In this paper, we argue that there exists a different predictor of subjective well-being that works pretty well: sociability, i.e. the quality and quantity of social relationships (also referred to as relational goods). More precisely, we illustrate the role of sociability as a predictor of well-being, presenting the available evidence at both the within-country and the worldwide level. In particular, we discuss recent evidence from US cross-sectional data (General Social Survey, 1975–2004), cross-country time series (World Value Survey 1980–2005), and German panel data (German Socio-Economic Panel, 1996–2007). We conclude by indicating the most relevant open issues and suggesting future lines of research.


Happiness Social capital Economic growth Relational goods Intrinsic motivations Subjective well-being Easterlin paradox Life satisfaction Sociability 

JEL Classification

I31 D60 O10 



We would like to thank Benedetto Gui for his valuable comments and suggestions. A special thanks goes to the participants to the 2009 Conference on “Happiness and Relational Goods”, who have enthusiastically contributed to bring fresh and new ideas on our research. We also acknowledge the work of our co-authors Francesco Sarracino and Maurizio Pugno, which is extensively reported in this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Economia PoliticaUniversity of SienaSienaItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Economia PoliticaUniversity of Modena and Reggio EmiliaModenaItaly

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