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Happiness and Economic Performance

  • Oswald, Andrew J

If a nation's economic performance improves, how much extra happiness does that buy its citizens? Most public debate assumes - without real evidence - that the answer is a lot. This paper examines the question by using information on well-being in Western countries. The data are of four kinds : on reported happiness, on reported life satisfaction, on reported job satisfaction, and on the number of suicides. These reveal patterns that are not visible to the anecdotal eye. In industrialized countries, well-being appears to rise as real national income grows. But the rise is so small as to be sometimes almost undetectable. Unemployment, however, seems to be a large source of unhappiness. This suggests that governments ought to be trying to reduce the amount of joblessness in the economy. In a country that is already rich, policy aimed instead at raising economic growth may be of comparatively little value.

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Article provided by Royal Economic Society in its journal The Economic Journal.

Volume (Year): 107 (1997)
Issue (Month): 445 (November)
Pages: 1815-31

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Handle: RePEc:ecj:econjl:v:107:y:1997:i:445:p:1815-31
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  1. Björklund, Anders, 1984. "Unemployment and Mental Health: Some Evidence from Panel Data," Working Paper Series 120, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
  2. DiTella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert & Oswald, Andrew J., 1999. "The macroeconomics of happiness," ZEI Working Papers B 03-1999, ZEI - Center for European Integration Studies, University of Bonn.
  3. N. F. R. Crafts, 1997. "Some Dimensions of the ‘Quality of Life’ During the British Industrial Revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 50(4), pages 617-639, November.
  4. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 616, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  5. Blanchflower, D-G & Oswald, A-J, 1997. "The Rising Well-Being of the Young," Papers 16, Centre for Economic Performance & Institute of Economics.
  6. Oswald, Andrew J., 1983. "Altruism, jealousy and the theory of optimal non-linear taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 77-87, February.
  7. Doh Shin, 1980. "Does rapid economic growth improve the human lot? Some empirical evidence," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 199-221, June.
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  9. Clark, A.E., 1995. "Job Satisfaction and Gender: Why Are Women so Happy at Work?," DELTA Working Papers 95-10, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  10. Robin Douthitt & Maurice Macdonald & Randolph Mullis, 1992. "The relationship between measures of subjective and economic well-being: A new look," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 26(4), pages 407-422, June.
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  12. Andrew E. Clark and Andrew J. Oswald, . "Satisfaction and Comparison Income," Economics Discussion Papers 419, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
  13. Boskin, Michael J & Sheshinski, Eytan, 1978. "Optimal Redistributive Taxation when Individual Welfare Depends upon Relative Income," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 92(4), pages 589-601, November.
  14. Craig Fox & Daniel Kahneman, 1992. "Correlations, causes and heuristics in surveys of life satisfaction," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 27(3), pages 221-234, November.
  15. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J. & Warr, Peter B., 1994. "Is job satisfaction u-shaped in age ?," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9407, CEPREMAP.
  16. Gerlach, Knut & Stephan, Gesine, 1996. "A paper on unhappiness and unemployment in Germany," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 325-330, September.
  17. David Blanchflower & Richard Freeman, 1993. "The Legacy of Communist Labor Relations," CEP Discussion Papers dp0180, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  18. Yew-Kwang Ng, 1996. "Happiness surveys: Some comparability issues and an exploratory survey based on just perceivable increments," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 38(1), pages 1-27, May.
  19. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
  20. Christopher T. Whelan, 1991. "The Role of Income, Life-Style Deprivation and Financial Strain in Mediating the Impact of Unemployment on Psychological Distress. Published in Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, V," Papers WP020, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
  21. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
  22. 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.
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