Social Indicators Research

, Volume 140, Issue 1, pp 79–100 | Cite as

Improving Well-Being in Bhutan: A Pursuit of Happiness or Poverty Reduction?

  • Jigme NidupEmail author
  • Simon Feeny
  • Ashton de Silva


Increasing happiness is a key priority for the Bhutanese government. This priority displaces more traditional (economic) objectives such as the pursuit of income growth and the reduction of income poverty. This paper examines the implications of this approach by examining whether there are common correlates of the four following measures of human well-being in Bhutan: income poverty; multidimensional poverty; perceived poverty; and happiness. Our findings suggest that whilst there is a degree of commonality, determinants of the different measures of well-being are distinct. Common factors include having a savings account, levels of literacy and household size. Further we show that higher levels of income poverty, multidimensional poverty and perceived poverty are found to be negatively associated with happiness. Importantly, our findings suggest that a focus on increasing happiness might come at the expense of improving other measures of wellbeing.


Bhutan Happiness Income poverty Multidimensional poverty Perceived poverty Well-being 


  1. Adeoti, A. I. (2014). Trend and determinants of multidimensional poverty in rural Nigeria. Journal of Development and Agricultural Economics. Scholar
  2. Alkire, S., & Foster, J. (2011). Understanding and misunderstanding of multidimensional poverty measurement. OPHI Working Paper, No. 43. Accessed July 23, 2014.
  3. Asian Development Bank. (n.d). Country Poverty Analysis. Accessed August 17, 2016.
  4. Ataguba, J. E., Ichoku, H. E., & Fonta, W. M. (2013). Multidimensional poverty assessment: applying the capability approach. International Journal of Social Economics, 40(4), 331–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Banerjee, A. N., Banik, N., & Mudhopadhyay, J. P. (2015). The dynamics of income growth and poverty: Evidence from districts in India. Development Policy Review, 33(3), 293–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benfield, W. A. (2008). Determinants of poverty and subjective well-being. Social and Economic Studies, 57(3/4), 1–51. Accessed June 10, 2014.
  7. Berger, P. L., & Kellner, H. (1964). Marriage and the construction of reality: An exercise in the microsociology of knowledge. Diogenes, 46, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bridge, S. (2013). Live in the country? Then you’re happier than your city-dwelling friends…Rural folk more optimistic than those in urban areas. Accessed September 19, 2014.
  9. Bruck, T., & Kebede, S. W. (2013). Dynamics and drivers of consumption and multidimensional poverty: Evidence from Rural Ethiopia. IZA Discussion Paper, No. 7364. Accessed September 22, 2014.
  10. Çaglayan, E., Kosan, N. I., & Astar, M. (2012). An empirical analysis of the determinants of household poverty in Turkey. Asian Economic and Financial Review. 2(1), 181–191.,2%281%29,%20pp.181-192.pdf. Accessed August 12, 2014.
  11. Caporale, G. M., Georgellis, Y., Tsitsianis, N., & Yin, Y. P. (2009). Income and happiness across Europe: Do reference values matter? Journal of Economic Psychology, 30(1), 42–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chyi, H., & Mao, S. (2012). The determinants of happiness of China’s elderly population. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(1), 167–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Coromaldi, M., & Zoli, M. (2012). Deriving multidimensional poverty indicators: Methodological issues and an empirical analysis for Italy. Social Indicators Research, 107, 37–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dartanto, T., & Nurkholis, N. (2013). The determinants of poverty dynamics in Indonesia: Evidence from panel data. Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, 49(1), 61–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dema, K. (2013). Lowering the boom (p. 3). Thimphu: Kuensel.Google Scholar
  16. Dhamija, N., & Bhide, S. (2013). Poverty in Rural India: Variations in factors influencing dynamics of chronic poverty. Journal of International Development, 25(5), 674–695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Di Tella, R., McCulloch, R., & Oswald, A. (2001). Preferences over inflation and unemployment: Evidence from surveys of happiness. American Economic Review, 19(1), 335–341. Accessed June 23, 2014.
  18. Easton, M. (2006, May 2). Britain’s happiness in decline. BBC news. Accessed April 10, 2014.
  19. Elmslie, B. T., & Tebaldi, E. (2014). The determinants of marital happiness. Applied Economics, 46(28), 3452–3462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Etim, N. A., & Edet, G. E. (2014). Factors determining urban poverty and farming households in a tropical region. American Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 4(3), 322–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Feeny, S., McDonald, L., & Posso, A. (2014). Are poor people less happy? Findings from Malanesia. World Development, 64, 448–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotion. Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367–1377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gerdtham, U. G., & Johannesson, M. (2001). The relationship between happiness, health, and socio-economic factors: results based on Swedish microdata. Journal of Socio-Economics, 30(6), 553–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Giri, S. (2004). The vital link: Monpas and their forests. Thimphu: Galing Printing & Publishing.Google Scholar
  25. Goh, C., Luo, X., & Zhu, N. (2009). Income growth, inequality and poverty reduction: A case study of eight provinces in China. China Economic Review, 20(3), 485–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Graham, C., & Pettinato, S. (2002). Frustrated achievers: Winners, losers and subjective well-being in new market economies. The Journal of Development Studies, 38(4), 100–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Helliwell, J. F. (2002). How’s life? Combining individual and national variables to explain subjective well-being. Economic Modelling, 20(2), 331–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Helliwell, J. F., & Wang, S. (2011). Trust and wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 1(1), 42–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kingdon, G. G., & Knight, J. (2006). Subjective well-being poverty vs. income poverty and capabilities poverty? Journal of Development Studies, 42(7), 1199–1224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lever, J. P., Pinol, N. L., & Uralde, J. H. (2005). Poverty, Psychological resources and subjective well-being. Social Indicators Research, 73(3), 375–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lewbel, A. (2012). Using heteroscedasticity to identify and estimate mismeasured and endogenous regressor models. Journal of Business and Economic Statistics, 30(1), 67–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lewbel, A. (2016). Identification and estimation using heteroscedasticity without instruments: The binary endogenous regressor case. Boston College Economics Working Paper 927.Google Scholar
  33. Michaelson, J. (2012). The Importance of measuring well-being. Accessed July 16, 2014.
  34. Michalos, A. C. (2008). Education, happiness and well-being. Social Indicators Research, 87(3), 347–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mukherjee, S., & Benson, T. (2003). The determinants of poverty in Malawi, 1998. World Development, 31(2), 339–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. National Statistics Bureau. (2012). Poverty analysis report. Thimphu: Author.Google Scholar
  37. National Statistics Bureau. (2014). Bhutan: Multidimensional poverty index 2012. Thimphu: Author.Google Scholar
  38. Neff, D. F. (2007). Subjective well-being, poverty and ethnicity in South Africa: Insight from an exploratory analysis. Social Indicators Research, 80(2), 313–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Odingo, A. O. (2009). Determinants of poverty: Lessons from Kenya. GeoJournal, 74(4), 311–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Oshio, T., & Kobayashi, M. (2010). Income inequality, perceived happiness, and self-rated health: Evidence from nationwide surveys in Japan. Social Science and Medicine, 70, 1358–1366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative. (2013). Nepal country briefing. Accessed July 5, 2014.
  42. Pankaj, P., & Dorji, T (2004). Measuring individual happiness in relation to Gross National Happiness in Bhutan: Some preliminary results from survey data. Accessed May 24, 2014.
  43. Preidt, R. (2009). As literacy improves, so might happiness. Accessed June 2, 2014.
  44. Putnam, R. (1995). Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of Democracy, 6(1), 65–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Robey, B. (1990). Family size and well-being: Evidence from Thailand. Asia-Pacific Population Policy, 12, 1–4. Accessed July 10, 2014.
  46. Rojas, M. (2011). Poverty and psychological distress in Latin America. Journal of Economic Psychology, 32(2), 206–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Royo, M. G., Velazco, J., & Camfield, L. (2013). Basic needs and wealth as independent determinants of happiness: An illustration from Thailand. Social Indicator Research, 110, 517–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rupasingha, A., & Goetz, S. J. (2007). Social and political forces as determinants of poverty: A spatial analysis. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 36(4), 650–671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ruprah, I. J., & Luengas, P. (2011). Monetary policy and happiness: Preference over inflation and unemployment in Latin America. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 40(1), 59–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ryan, J. (1981). Marital status, happiness, and anomia. Journal of Marriage and Family, 43(3), 643–649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sarracino, F. (2013). Determinants of subjective well-being in high and low income countries: Do happiness equations differ across countries? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 42, 51–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Senik, C. (2014). Wealth and happiness. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 30(1), 92–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Shaw, D. M. (2009). Euthanasia and eudaimonia. Journal of Medical Ethics, 35(9), 530–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Silva, I. D. (2008). Micro-level determinants of poverty reduction in Sri Lanka: a multivariate approach. International Journal of Social Economics, 35(3), 140–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Treffgarne, C. (2002). Improving livelihoods for the poor: the role of literacy. Accessed June 3, 2014.
  56. United Nations Development Program. (2013). The rise of south: Human progress in a diverse world. Accessed June 8, 2014.
  57. Ura, K. (2005). Beneficial labour contribution (woola). Thimphu: Centre for Bhutan Studies.Google Scholar
  58. Ura, K., Alkire, S., Zangmo, T., & Wangdi, K. (2012). Short guide to GNH Index. Thimphu: Centre for Bhutan Studies.Google Scholar
  59. Waite, L. J., & Gallagher, M. (2000). The case for marriage. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Central Australian CollegeFootscray WestAustralia
  2. 2.School of Economics, Finance and MarketingRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations