Understanding the key determinants of people’s life satisfaction will suggest policies for how best to reduce misery and promote wellbeing. This column discusses evidence from survey data on Australia, Britain, Germany, and the US which indicate that the things that matter most are people’s social relationships and their mental and physical health; and that the best predictor of an adult’s life satisfaction is their emotional health as a child. The authors call for a new focus for public policy: not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘wellbeing creation’.
Andrew Clark, Sarah Fleche, Richard Layard, Nattavudh Powdthavee, George Ward, 12 December 2016
Mevlude Akbulut-Yuksel, Adriana Kugler, 17 October 2016
Upward social mobility is widely sought but often elusive in highly mobile societies like the US. While previous work has focused on intergenerational transmission of income levels and social prosperity among natives and immigrants, this column studies the intergenerational transmission of health. There is substantial persistence in health status for both natives and immigrants. However, as immigrant families remain in the US for more generations, their children’s health tends to resemble more the health of native children and less the health of their mothers.
John Helliwell, 06 September 2016
Discussions about inequality tend to focus on the distribution of income and wealth. This column argues for a shift in focus towards another source of inequality – subjective wellbeing. Wellbeing inequality has grown significantly for the world as a whole and in eight of the ten global regions. One way to address this inequality is to increase social trust.
Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, 22 May 2016
Industrialisation has been the key to modern economic growth and rapidly rising incomes, but some question whether it is always a blessing when taking a broader view of human wellbeing. While the recent rise of China and other Asian economies has transformed the lives of millions, the experience of Britain in the 19th century shows a more mixed picture of development. This column presents a unified framework for measuring British wellbeing over the period 1780-1850, which shows that better health and higher income levels alternated in improving overall wellbeing, until declining health in the 1840s led to stagnating wellbeing.
Andrew Clark, Elena Stancanelli, 26 April 2016
Terrorism wreaks a terrible cost on societies. This column quantifies some of the effects by employing daily data on individual, self-reported emotional feelings combined with time allocation data from the American Time Use Survey. The focus is on the days before and after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The data show a significant drop in well-being, driven by the responses of women and Massachusetts residents. Hours worked were not affected.
Thomas Hills, Eugenio Proto, Daniel Sgroi, 18 September 2015
With records of subjective wellbeing going back less than half a century, this column asks if we can know the impact of key past events on the happiness of our ancestors. It presents a new historical index that draws on millions of digitised books in the Google Books corpus of words using sentiment analysis. The index – which goes back to the 1776 US Declaration of Independence, 200 years earlier than any other index of happiness – makes it possible to analyse the historical drivers of happiness in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US.
Sebastian Galiani, Paul Gertler, Raimundo Undurraga, 21 July 2015
Does material wealth make you happier? Recent literature and public discussion suggests that we believe widely that, in the long term, it doesn’t; especially if you are fairly wealthy and live in the West. But what if you’re poor and live in a developing country? This column presents new evidence that taking material improvements for granted is a common human behaviour that is present even among the extremely poor.
Daniel Benjamin, Samantha Cunningham, Ori Heffetz, Miles Kimball, Nichole Szembrot, 02 January 2015
There is growing interest in alternative measures of national wellbeing, such as happiness or life satisfaction. This column argues that a small number of survey questions are unlikely to capture all the aspects of wellbeing that matter to people. Using a stated-preference survey, the authors find several aspects of wellbeing to be important that are not commonly included in wellbeing surveys, such as those related to family, values, and security. This approach could be used to provide weights for wellbeing indices.
John Helliwell, Haifang Huang, Shawn Grover, Shun Wang, 30 November 2014
Evaluations of wellbeing complement and encompass established measures of economic progress. This column presents findings on the way governance affects wellbeing. The results indicate that people are more satisfied with their lives in countries with better governance quality. Confidence and trust in public institutions play an important role in this finding. Additional benefits to wellbeing arise when nations are able to better weather economic and other crises.
Alex Bryson, John Forth, Lucy Stokes, 17 November 2014
It is generally agreed that firms can improve their employees’ wellbeing through improvements in job quality – but is it in their economic interests to do so? This column reports research showing that satisfied employees and higher productivity go together. Analysis of the British Workplace Employment Relations Survey finds that employee job satisfaction is positively associated with workplace financial performance, labour productivity, and the quality of output and service.
Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Michael Norton, 08 October 2014
How do macroeconomic changes affect people’s wellbeing? This column presents evidence that the life satisfaction of individuals is between two and eight times more sensitive to negative economic growth than it is to positive economic growth. Engineering economic ‘booms’ that risk even short ‘busts’ is unlikely to improve social wellbeing in the long run.
Timothy Bond, Kevin Lang, 04 July 2014
Self-reported measures of happiness are growing in popularity as alternatives to GDP. This column presents a novel statistical critique of the validity of comparing such measures across groups. Since monotonic transformations of individuals’ happiness levels can reverse average happiness rankings between countries, no meaningful comparison can be made without assumptions on the distribution of happiness.
Nicholas Oulton, 22 December 2012
The idea of having GDP growth as the main target of economic policy has been under attack in recent years. This column addresses some of the criticisms and argues that continued GDP growth would be good for the UK and other European countries – and not just in the short term to reduce high levels of unemployment.
John Feddersen, Robert Metcalfe, Mark Wooden, 02 November 2012
Hurricane Sandy destroyed an massive amount of US wealth, but the impact on human wellbeing surely goes far beyond any dollar figure. This column argues that the ‘subjective wellbeing’ literature can inform policy choices in the area of emergency response. Since the ‘happiness’ cost of short-term weather changes far exceeds that of long-term changes, prevention policies are likely to yield a higher payoff in terms of life satisfaction than rebuilding policies with equivalent financial payoffs.
Clemens Hetschko, Andreas Knabe, Ronnie Schöb, 04 May 2012
Most people’s wellbeing is permanently affected by unemployment. This column argues that the unhappiness is due to a loss of identity, rather than daily experiences. Using German data, it shows that the long-term unemployed become happier upon entering retirement, thus changing social category, even though this does not change their daily lives.
Kees Koedijk, Meir Statman, Rachel Campbell, 30 March 2012
Does more money always make you happy? This column argues that financial wellbeing is distinct from income. People with low income can enjoy financial wellbeing as high as people with high incomes as long as their aspirations do not exceed their incomes.
Alex Bryson, 21 October 2011
A growing body of evidence indicates that certain modern management practices increase firm profitability. What remains largely unknown is their effect on workers’ wellbeing. This column uses data from Finland and suggests high-involvement management – that is, engaging workers more fully in their jobs – is associated with higher job satisfaction, non-tiredness, and a lower probability of accident.
Carol Graham, 31 July 2011
The UK government is the latest to consider incorporating measures of happiness in its policymaking. This column takes stock of what we know from investigations into people’s wellbeing. It concludes that there is still much to resolve before a measure of gross national happiness is possible – or indeed desirable.
John Helliwell, Christopher Barrington-Leigh, Anthony Harris, Haifang Huang, 24 April 2010
What accounts for life satisfaction differences across countries? This column presents new findings from the Gallup World Poll of more than 140,000 respondents worldwide. It suggests the happiest nations are those with strong social support from family and friends, freedom in making life choices, and low levels of corruption.
Lawrence Katz, 17 July 2009
If people in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods have the opportunity to move house, what is the impact on their wellbeing and their educational and labour market outcomes? Lawrence Katz of Harvard University talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about the ‘Moving to Opportunity’ project, which is tracking 5,000 low-income families with children who were offered the chance to relocate in the mid-1990s. The interview was recorded at the American Economic Association meetings in San Francisco in January 2009.