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Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox

  • Betsey Stevenson
  • Justin Wolfers

The "Easterlin paradox" suggests that there is no link between a society's economic development and its average level of happiness. We re-assess this paradox analyzing multiple rich datasets spanning many decades. Using recent data on a broader array of countries, we establish a clear positive link between average levels of subjective well-being and GDP per capita across countries, and find no evidence of a satiation point beyond which wealthier countries have no further increases in subjective well-being. We show that the estimated relationship is consistent across many datasets and is similar to the relationship between subject well-being and income observed within countries. Finally, examining the relationship between changes in subjective well-being and income over time within countries we find economic growth associated with rising happiness. Together these findings indicate a clear role for absolute income and a more limited role for relative income comparisons in determining happiness.

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Article provided by Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution in its journal Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Volume (Year): 39 (2008)
Issue (Month): 1 (Spring) ()
Pages: 1-102

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Handle: RePEc:bin:bpeajo:v:39:y:2008:i:2008-01:p:1-102
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  1. Kenny, Charles, 1999. "Does Growth Cause Happiness, or Does Happiness Cause Growth?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(1), pages 3-25.
  2. Michael Eid & Ed Diener, 2004. "Global Judgments of Subjective Well-Being: Situational Variability and Long-Term Stability," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 65(3), pages 245-277, February.
  3. Campbell, John Y & Mankiw, N Gregory, 1990. "Permanent Income, Current Income, and Consumption," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 8(3), pages 265-79, July.
  4. Luttmer, Erzo F. P., 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," Working Paper Series rwp04-029, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  5. Andrew Leigh & Justin Wolfers, 2005. "Happiness and the Human Development Index: Australia is Not a Paradox," CEPR Discussion Papers 505, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  6. Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin, 2009. "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," CEPR Discussion Papers 7311, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Wolfers, Justin, 2003. "Is Business Cycle Volatility Costly? Evidence from Surveys of Subjective Well-Being," Research Papers 1751r, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  8. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2004. "Well-being over time in Britain and the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1359-1386, July.
  9. Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "On the curvature of the reporting function from objective reality to subjective feelings," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(3), pages 369-372, September.
  10. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
  11. Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert J. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "The Macroeconomics of Happiness," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 615, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  12. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gallup_world_poll_jep_spring2008 is not listed on IDEAS
  13. Rivers, Douglas & Vuong, Quang H., 1988. "Limited information estimators and exogeneity tests for simultaneous probit models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 347-366, November.
  14. 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.
  15. Easterlin, Richard A, 2001. "Income and Happiness: Towards an Unified Theory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(473), pages 465-84, July.
  16. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger, 2006. "Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
  17. 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.
  18. Layard, Richard, 1980. "Human Satisfactions and Public Policy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 90(363), pages 737-50, December.
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