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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.

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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal Journal of the European Economic Association.

Volume (Year): 7 (2009)
Issue (Month): 2-3 (04-05)
Pages: 539-549

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:jeurec:v:7:y:2009:i:2-3:p:539-549
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  1. Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 10667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
  3. Miller, Douglas L. & Paxson, Christina, 2006. "Relative income, race, and mortality," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(5), pages 979-1003, September.
  4. 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.
  5. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 2000. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," NBER Working Papers 7487, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Carlsson, Fredrik & Johansson-Stenman, Olof & Martinsson, Peter, 2003. "Do You Enjoy Having More Than Others? Survey Evidence of Positional Goods," Working Papers in Economics 100, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  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. 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.
  10. 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.
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