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Happiness Inequality in the United States

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Author Info

  • Stevenson, Betsey

    ()
    (University of Michigan)

  • Wolfers, Justin

    ()
    (University of Michigan)

Abstract

This paper examines how the level and dispersion of self-reported happiness has evolved over the period 1972-2006. While there has been no increase in aggregate happiness, inequality in happiness has fallen substantially since the 1970s. There have been large changes in the level of happiness across groups: Two-thirds of the black-white happiness gap has been eroded, and the gender happiness gap has disappeared entirely. Paralleling changes in the income distribution, differences in happiness by education have widened substantially. We develop an integrated approach to measuring inequality and decomposing changes in the distribution of happiness, finding a pervasive decline in within-group inequality during the 1970s and 1980s that was experienced by even narrowly-defined demographic groups. Around one-third of this decline has subsequently been unwound. Juxtaposing these changes with large rises in income inequality suggests an important role for non-pecuniary factors in shaping the well-being distribution.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 3624.

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Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal of Legal Studies, 2008, 37 (s2), S33-S79
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3624

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Keywords: inequality; subjective well-being; happiness;

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References

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  1. Clark, Andrew E. & Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," IZA Discussion Papers 2840, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  7. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2001. "What Can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," CESifo Working Paper Series 503, CESifo Group Munich.
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  12. Shane T. Jensen & Stephen H. Shore, 2008. "Changes in the Distribution of Income Volatility," Papers 0808.1090, arXiv.org.
  13. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2007. "Long-Run Changes in the Wage Structure: Narrowing, Widening, Polarizing," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 38(2), pages 135-168.
  14. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
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  21. Adam Isen & Betsey Stevenson, 2010. "Women’s Education and Family Behavior: Trends in Marriage, Divorce and Fertility," NBER Chapters, in: Demography and the Economy, pages 107-140 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Orazio Attanasio & Erich Battistin & Hidehiko Ichimura, 2004. "What Really Happened to Consumption Inequality in the US?," NBER Working Papers 10338, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. David H. Autor & Lawrence F. Katz & Melissa S. Kearney, 2008. "Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 300-323, May.
  24. Layard, Richard, 1980. "Human Satisfactions and Public Policy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 90(363), pages 737-50, December.
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