August 16, 2002

Determinants of Subjective Well-Being

Serendipity. John F. Helliwell has found a large cross-country dataset covering subjective feelings of well being, and mucks about in it. I found four things in his paper especially worthy of note:

  • ...an improvement in the quality of government in Belarus (-.76) to that of Hungary (+.87) would (if the relation were causal) increase the average well-being of a citizen of Belarus by more than marriage, by about as much as the combined effect of religious belief and church attendance, and by almost as much as moving from the bottom to the top decile in the country's income distribution.
  • ...individuals who think that cheating on taxes is wrong have higher subjective well-being... well-being is systematically higher if they live in a society in which people generally think that it is wrong to cheat.... People who cheat appear to be less happy. Widespread acceptance of cheating lowers average satisfaction, whatever one's own willingness...
  • ... the well-documented benefits of education [for happiness] appear to flow less through a direct impact on life satisfaction than through its positive effects on the creation and maintenance of human and social capital...
  • As can be seen, the well-being effects of living in higher-income countries are small... do not show any evidence of subsequent increase once GDP per capita exceeds half that in the U.S.... Yet it remains the case that on average, subjective well-being is much higher in OECD than in non-OECD countries, and the OECD countries are also much richer.... [The explanation is that t]hose who have the highest levels of subjective well-being are not those who live in the richest countries but those who live where social and political institutions are effective, where mutual trust is high, and corruption is low.

If I had to sum it up, I would say that people are unhappy wherever they are treated unfairly, reminding me of a guy who once wrote an article called "Justice as Fairness."


How's Life? Combining Individual and National Variables to Explain Subjective Well-Being, by John F. Helliwell; NBER Working Paper No.w9065; Issued in July 2002

Abstract: This paper attempts to explain international and inter-personal differences in subjective well-being over the final fifth of the twentieth century. The empirical work makes use of data from three waves of the World Values survey covering about fifty different countries. The analysis proceeds in stages. First there is a brief review of some reasons for giving a key role to subjective measures of well-being. This is followed by a survey of earlier empirical studies, a description of the main variables used, a report of results and tests, and discussion of the links among social capital, education, income and well-being. The main innovation of the paper, relative to earlier studies of subjective well-being, lies in its use of large international samples of data combining individual and societal level variables, thus permitting the simultaneous identification of individual-level and societal-level determinants of well-being. This is particularly useful in identifying the direct and indirect linkages between social capital and well-being.

Posted by DeLong at August 16, 2002 01:40 PM | TrackBack

Comments

John Rawls is the "Justice as Fairness" guy. A succinct discussion of Rawls' ethical ideas is at

http://truth.wofford.edu/~kaycd/ethics/justice.htm

Posted by: David on August 16, 2002 04:09 PM

____

Now THAT'S a rather hilariously ironic reversal: implementing Rawlsian ideas of justice for the sake of the utilitarian end of increasing happiness.

Not to say that there's anything wrong with the reasoning, but it seems ironic that Rawls wrote "Theory of Justice" as an anti-Utilitarian work, only to have it's ideas of the social contract used as a utilitarian device to make people feel better by making life seem more fair to them.

Julian Elson

Posted by: Julian Elson on August 18, 2002 12:33 PM

____

1 I WANT to know WHERE you FOUND this:

"Serendipity. John F. Helliwell has found a large cross-country dataset covering subjective feelings of well being, and mucks about in it. I found four things in his paper especially worthy of note"

oh... happinesss IS a cross country comparison of subjective well being... please tell me where to find it, what its called, or what search terms might help me in finding one. I am trying "cross country comparison of subjective well being" but that wont guarantee a nice thorough paper, id rather find them by recommendation because google isnt as smart as people. please email me with the link or title if you dont mind :D

2 You have this on your page: "...individuals who think that cheating on taxes is wrong have higher subjective well-being... well-being is systematically higher if they live in a society in which people generally think that it is wrong to cheat.... People who cheat appear to be less happy. Widespread acceptance of cheating lowers average satisfaction, whatever one's own willingness..." and it seems to imply (although im not sure) that cheating makes people unhappy.

I would like to suggest that perhaps people cheat BECAUSE they are unhappy, they are unhappy because they feel that they are being cheated themselves, and so cheating becomes a counter measure - and that THIS is the true correlation between cheating and unhappiness. The tao te ching goes on about how cunning governments will cause the people to be cunning, and i think its got a very valid interpretation. I highly recommend the tao, if you havent read it yet, I think youd be very interested in its ancient philosophy, since it does go on at length about the relationship between governments and well being, and its a kick ass text besides that.

Posted by: ladyraven on November 9, 2003 12:02 PM

____

1 I WANT to know WHERE you FOUND this:

"Serendipity. John F. Helliwell has found a large cross-country dataset covering subjective feelings of well being, and mucks about in it. I found four things in his paper especially worthy of note"

oh... happinesss IS a cross country comparison of subjective well being... please tell me where to find it, what its called, or what search terms might help me in finding one. I am trying "cross country comparison of subjective well being" but that wont guarantee a nice thorough paper, id rather find them by recommendation because google isnt as smart as people. please email me with the link or title if you dont mind :D

2 You have this on your page: "...individuals who think that cheating on taxes is wrong have higher subjective well-being... well-being is systematically higher if they live in a society in which people generally think that it is wrong to cheat.... People who cheat appear to be less happy. Widespread acceptance of cheating lowers average satisfaction, whatever one's own willingness..." and it seems to imply (although im not sure) that cheating makes people unhappy.

I would like to suggest that perhaps people cheat BECAUSE they are unhappy, they are unhappy because they feel that they are being cheated themselves, and so cheating becomes a counter measure - and that THIS is the true correlation between cheating and unhappiness. The tao te ching goes on about how cunning governments will cause the people to be cunning, and i think its got a very valid interpretation. I highly recommend the tao, if you havent read it yet, I think youd be very interested in its ancient philosophy, since it does go on at length about the relationship between governments and well being, and its a kick ass text besides that.

Posted by: ladyraven on November 9, 2003 12:08 PM

____

Post a comment
















__