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Genes, economics, and happiness

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  • Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
  • James H. Fowler
  • Bruno S. Frey

Abstract

Research on happiness has produced valuable insights into the sources of subjective well-being that are of importance to economics. A major finding from this literature is that people exhibit a 'baseline' level of happiness that shows persistent strength over time. Here we explore the extent to which baseline happiness is infl uenced by genetic variation. Using data from Add Health, we employ a twin study design to show that genetic variation explains about 33% of the variation in happiness, and that the infl uence of genes varies by gender (women 26%, men 39%) and tends to rise with age. We also present evidence that variation in a speci c gene predicts happiness. Individuals with a transcriptionally more efficient version of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) are significantly more likely to report higher levels of life satisfaction - having one or two alleles of the more efficient type raises the average likelihood of being very satisfied with one's life by 8.5% and 17.3%, respectively. Finally, using data from an independent source (the Framingham Heart Study) we show that a linked single nucleotide polymorphism (rs2020933) in the SLC6A4 gene also predicts life satisfaction. These results are the first to identify a specific gene that may be associated with baseline levels of happiness.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 475.

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Date of creation: Dec 2010
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Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:475

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Keywords: Happiness; subjective well-being; genetics;

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References

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  1. Robert J. MacCulloch & Rafael Di Tella & Andrew J. Oswald, 2001. "Preferences over Inflation and Unemployment: Evidence from Surveys of Happiness," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 335-341, March.
  2. Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder & George Davey Smith & Debbie A. Lawlor & Carol Propper & Frank Windmeijer, 2010. "Genetic Markers as Instrumental Variables:An Application to Child Fat Mass and Academic Achievement," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 10/229, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
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  5. Fryer, Roland & Echenique, Federico, 2007. "A Measure of Segregation Based on Social Interactions," Scholarly Articles 2958220, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Fletcher, Jason M. & Lehrer, Steven F., 2011. "Genetic lotteries within families," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 647-659, July.
  7. Oswald, Andrew J. & Wu, Stephen, 2010. "Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-being: Evidence from the USA," IZA Discussion Papers 4695, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Andrew Caplin & Mark Dean, 2008. "Dopamine, Reward Prediction Error, and Economics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(2), pages 663-701, 05.
  9. Jonathan P. Beauchamp & David Cesarini & Magnus Johannesson & Matthijs J. H. M. van der Loos & Philipp D. Koellinger & Patrick J. F. Groenen & James H. Fowler & J. Niels Rosenquist & A. Roy Thurik & N, 2011. "Molecular Genetics and Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(4), pages 57-82, Fall.
  10. Allcott, Hunt & Karlan, Dean & Mobius, Markus & Rosenblat, Tanya & Szeidl, Adam, 2010. "Community Size and Network Closure," Staff General Research Papers 32110, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  11. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2008. "Relative Income, Happiness, and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(1), pages 95-144, March.
  12. Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder & George Davey Smith & Debbie A. Lawlor & Carol Propper & Frank Windmeijer, 2011. "Genetic Markers as Instrumental Variables," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 11/274, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  13. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox," NBER Working Papers 14282, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2004. "How Important is Methodology for the estimates of the determinants of Happiness?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 641-659, 07.
  15. David Cesarini & Christopher T. Dawes & Magnus Johannesson & Paul Lichtenstein & Björn Wallace, 2009. "Genetic Variation in Preferences for Giving and Risk Taking," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 124(2), pages 809-842, May.
  16. Federico Echenique & Roland G. Fryer Jr & Alex Kaufman, 2006. "Is School Segregation Good or Bad?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 265-269, May.
  17. Bruno S. Frey, 2008. "Happiness: A Revolution in Economics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262062771, December.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Layard, Richard & Clark, Andrew E. & Cornaglia, Francesca & Powdthavee, Nattavudh & Vernoit, James, 2013. "What Predicts a Successful Life? A Life-Course Model of Well-Being," IZA Discussion Papers 7682, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Proto, Eugenio & Oswald, Andrew J., 2014. "National Happiness and Genetic Distance: A Cautious Exploration," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 196, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  3. Vladimir Otrachshenko & Olga Popova, 2012. "Life (Dis)satisfaction and the Decision to Migrate: Evidence from Central and Eastern Europe," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp460, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economic Institute, Prague.
  4. Vanessa Mertins & Andrea B. Schote & Jobst Meyer, 2013. "Variants of the Monoamine Oxidase A Gene (MAOA) Predict Free-riding Behavior in Women in a Strategic Public Goods Experiment," IAAEU Discussion Papers 201302, Institute of Labour Law and Industrial Relations in the European Union (IAAEU).
  5. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Ed Diener & Louis Tay & Cody Xuereb, 2013. "The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-Being," CEP Discussion Papers dp1236, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  6. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Ed Diener & Louis Tay & Cody Xuereb, 2013. "The objective benefits of subjective well-being," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51669, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  7. Adrian Chadi, 2014. "Regional unemployment and norm-induced effects on life satisfaction," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 46(3), pages 1111-1141, May.

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