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International Evidence on the Social Context of Well-Being

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  • John F. Helliwell
  • Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh
  • Anthony Harris
  • Haifang Huang

Abstract

This paper uses the first three waves of the Gallup World Poll to investigate differences across countries, cultures and regions in the factors linked to life satisfaction, paying special attention to the social context. Our principal findings are: First, using the larger pooled sample, we find that answers to the satisfaction with life and Cantril ladder questions provide consistent views of what constitutes a good life, with an average of the two measures providing a clearer picture than either measure on its own. Second, we find strong evidence for the importance of both income and social context variables in explaining within-country and international differences in well-being. For most specifications tested, the combined effects of a few measures of the social and institutional context are as large as those of income in explaining both international and intra-national differences in life satisfaction. Third, the very significant influences of both income and social factors permit the calculation of compensating differentials for social factors. We find very large income-equivalent values for key measures of the social context. Fourth, the international similarity of the estimated equations suggests that the large international differences in average life evaluations are not due to different approaches to the meaning of a good life, but to differing social, institutional, and economic life circumstances.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14720.

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Date of creation: Feb 2009
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Publication status: published as International Evidence on the Social Context of Well-Being John F. Helliwell, Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh, Anthony Harris and Haifang Huang In Ed Diener, John F. Helliwell and Daniel Kahneman, eds. International Differences in Well-Being, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14720

Note: HE IFM LS PE
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  1. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew Oswald, 2007. "Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?," NBER Working Papers 12935, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin, 2008. "Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox," CEPR Discussion Papers 6944, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Andrew E. Clark & Orsolya Lelkes, 2009. "Let us pray: religious interactions in life satisfaction," PSE Working Papers halshs-00566120, HAL.
  4. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gallup_world_poll_jep_spring2008 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. Angus Deaton, 2008. "Income, Health, and Well-Being around the World: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 53-72, Spring.
  6. Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh & John F. Helliwell, 2008. "Empathy and Emulation: Life Satisfaction and the Urban Geography of Comparison Groups," NBER Working Papers 14593, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Kahneman, Daniel & Wakker, Peter P & Sarin, Rakesh, 1997. "Back to Bentham? Explorations of Experienced Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 375-405, May.
  8. John F. Helliwell, 2008. "Life Satisfaction and Quality of Development," NBER Working Papers 14507, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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