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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. Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "On the Curvature of the Reporting Function from Objective Reality to Subjective Feelings," IZA Discussion Papers 3344, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  8. Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin, 2009. "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," CEPR Discussion Papers 7311, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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