Adult happiness and prior traumatic victimization in and out of the household

  • Timothy M. Diette
  • Arthur H. Goldsmith
  • Darrick Hamilton
  • William DarityJr.


A large share of the American population suffers from traumatic experiences early in life. Many adults are also victims of trauma. Using data drawn from the National Comorbidity Survey–Replication, we examine the link between self-reported happiness, a broad gauge of subjective well-being, and four types of traumatic victimization that may occur at various points in the life cycle. In particular, we consider the association between home violence, sexual assault, community violence, and stalking and subsequent victims’ adult happiness. For females and males, we find that each of these traumas significantly reduces self-reported happiness later in the life course, and for both women and men, the estimated impact of home violence is greatest. Furthermore, we find that the adverse effects of trauma on happiness are comparable to the impact of critical socioeconomic developments on happiness. Moreover, we find that experiencing more than one type of these four traumas has a greater negative impact on subsequent happiness than experiencing only one type. Our findings are robust to the inclusion of a wide range of controls, and the influence of trauma on subsequent happiness is independent of personal and family characteristics. Since happiness and mental health are closely related, our work suggests that traumatic victimization undermines overall health and well-being in the U.S.


Happiness Well-being Child abuse Trauma 

JEL Classification

I31 J13 J18 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by the Lenfest Summer Research Grant. Diette acknowledges support from the Lenfest Sabbatical Fellowship program. In addition, the authors thank Lauren Howard, Emma Busse, Shaun Devlin, and Taylor Melanson for their research support. Helpful comments were provided by the editor of this journal, two anonymous reviewers, and participants at the New Scholarship on Happiness Conference at the Duke University Law School.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 75 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy M. Diette
    • 1
  • Arthur H. Goldsmith
    • 2
  • Darrick Hamilton
    • 3
  • William DarityJr.
    • 4
  1. 1.Harry E. and Mary Jayne W. Redenbaugh Term Associate Professor, Department of EconomicsWashington and Lee UniversityLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Jackson T. Stephens Professor, Department of EconomicsWashington and Lee UniversityLexingtonUSA
  3. 3.Associate Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, Department of Economics, Milano School for International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, New School for Social ResearchThe New SchoolNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics Sanford School of Public PolicyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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