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Life satisfaction and air quality in London

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  • MacKerron, George
  • Mourato, Susana

Abstract

A growing body of research in economics concerns self-reported happiness, or life satisfaction (LS), and its relationship to a wide range of other variables. The findings of this research tend to highlight the importance of non-income aspects of individuals' life conditions. These findings are strongly complementary to themes within the sustainable development discourse. Firstly, they suggest ways in which we might consume less without compromising on our current levels of LS. And secondly, they help demonstrate the immediate LS benefits that could be gained from higher levels of environmental quality (EQ). However, the empirical evidence for the link between EQ and LS is, to date, somewhat weak, due in part to a lack of EQ data at a level of detail to match the individual-by-individual resolution of LS measures. This small, exploratory study therefore seeks to assess how the use of EQ data at very high spatial resolution could advance the empirical literature examining connections between LS and EQ levels, focusing on air quality in particular. It collects original survey data for approximately 400 Londoners, and uses geographical information system (GIS) software to calculate pollutant concentrations in the immediate vicinity of their homes. It uses this data to estimate maximum likelihood regression models explaining LS ratings in terms of a range of individual, household and local variables. Both perceived and measured air pollution levels are significantly negatively associated with the LS of the survey respondents, even when controlling for a wide range of other effects. An increase of 10[mu]g/m3 in annual mean nitrogen dioxide concentration appears to correspond on average to a drop of nearly half a point of LS on an 11-point rating scale. These findings cannot yet be generalised with confidence. However, if they were confirmed by larger future studies, they would appear to strengthen and extend existing arguments in favour of policies to reduce urban air pollution, framed both in terms of conventional economic efficiency analyses, and in wider political and ethical (and potentially legal) terms.

Suggested Citation

  • MacKerron, George & Mourato, Susana, 2009. "Life satisfaction and air quality in London," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(5), pages 1441-1453, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:68:y:2009:i:5:p:1441-1453
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