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Happiness, Unhappiness, and Suicide: An Empirical Assessment


  • Mary C. Daly
  • Daniel J. Wilson


The use of subjective well-being (SWB) data for investigating the nature of individual preferences has increased tremendously in recent years. There has been much debate about the cross-sectional and time series patterns found in these data, particularly with respect to the relationship between SWB and relative status. Part of this debate concerns how well SWB data measure true utility or preferences. In a recent paper, Daly, Wilson, and Johnson (2008) propose using data on suicide as a revealed preference (outcome-based) measure of well-being and find strong evidence that reference-group income negatively affects suicide risk. In this paper, we compare and contrast the empirical patterns of SWB and suicide data. Despite no obvious aggregate relationship between the two series-either time series or cross-sectional-we find a strikingly strong and consistent relationship in the determinants of SWB and suicide in individual-level, multivariate regressions. This latter result cross-validates suicide and SWB micro data as useful and complementary indicators of latent utility. (JEL: I31, D6, H0, J0) (c) 2009 by the European Economic Association.

Suggested Citation

  • Mary C. Daly & Daniel J. Wilson, 2009. "Happiness, Unhappiness, and Suicide: An Empirical Assessment," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 539-549, 04-05.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:jeurec:v:7:y:2009:i:2-3:p:539-549

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Miller, Douglas L. & Paxson, Christina, 2006. "Relative income, race, and mortality," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(5), pages 979-1003, September.
    3. Fredrik Carlsson & Olof Johansson-Stenman & Peter Martinsson, 2007. "Do You Enjoy Having More than Others? Survey Evidence of Positional Goods," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 74(296), pages 586-598, November.
    4. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2005. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 963-1002.
    5. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
    6. Gardner, Jonathan & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Money and mental wellbeing: A longitudinal study of medium-sized lottery wins," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 49-60, January.
    7. McBride, Michael, 2001. "Relative-income effects on subjective well-being in the cross-section," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 251-278, July.
    8. 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.
    9. Sendhil Mullainathan & Marianne Bertrand, 2001. "Do People Mean What They Say? Implications for Subjective Survey Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 67-72, May.
    10. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada, 2005. "Income and well-being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 997-1019, June.
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    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • H0 - Public Economics - - General
    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General


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