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The Sad Truth about Happiness Scales

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Listed:
  • Timothy N. Bond
  • Kevin Lang

Abstract

Happiness is reported in ordered intervals (e.g., very, pretty, not too happy). We review and apply standard statistical results to determine when such data permit identification of two groups’ relative average happiness. The necessary conditions for nonparametric identification are strong and unlikely to ever be satisfied. Standard parametric approaches cannot identify this ranking unless the variances are exactly equal. If not, ordered probit findings can be reversed by lognormal transformations. For nine prominent happiness research areas, conditions for nonparametric identification are rejected and standard parametric results are reversed using plausible transformations. Tests for a common reporting function consistently reject.

Suggested Citation

  • Timothy N. Bond & Kevin Lang, 2019. "The Sad Truth about Happiness Scales," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 127(4), pages 1629-1640.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:doi:10.1086/701679
    DOI: 10.1086/701679
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "On the curvature of the reporting function from objective reality to subjective feelings," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(3), pages 369-372, September.
    2. Hammond, Peter J. & Liberini, Federica & Proto, Eugenio, 2011. "Individual Welfare and Subjective Well-Being: Commentary Inspired by Sacks, Stevenson and Wolfers," Economic Research Papers 270767, University of Warwick - Department of Economics.
    3. Angus Deaton, 2008. "Income, Health, and Well-Being around the World: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 53-72, Spring.
    4. Jens Ludwig & Greg J. Duncan & Lisa A. Gennetian & Lawrence F. Katz & Ronald C. Kessler & Jeffrey R. Kling & Lisa Sanbonmatsu, 2013. "Long-Term Neighborhood Effects on Low-Income Families: Evidence from Moving to Opportunity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 226-231, May.
    5. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2009. "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 190-225, August.
    6. Timothy N. Bond & Kevin Lang, 2013. "The Evolution of the Black-White Test Score Gap in Grades K–3: The Fragility of Results," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(5), pages 1468-1479, December.
    7. Andrew E. Clark & Sarah Flèche & Claudia Senik, 2016. "Economic Growth Evens Out Happiness: Evidence from Six Surveys," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 62(3), pages 405-419, September.
    8. Timothy N. Bond & Kevin Lang, 2018. "The Black–White Education Scaled Test-Score Gap in Grades K-7," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 53(4), pages 891-917.
    9. Lawrence F. Katz & Jeffrey R. Kling & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2001. "Moving to Opportunity in Boston: Early Results of a Randomized Mobility Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 607-654.
    10. Andrew E. Clark & Sarah Flèche & Claudia Senik, 2016. "Economic Growth Evens Out Happiness: Evidence from Six Surveys," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 62(3), pages 405-419, September.
    11. Andrew E. Clark & Sarah Flèche & Claudia Senik, 2016. "Economic Growth Evens Out Happiness: Evidence from Six Surveys," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 62(3), pages 405-419, September.
    12. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Happiness Inequality in the United States," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(S2), pages 33-79, June.
    13. Andrew E. Clark & Sarah Flèche & Claudia Senik, 2016. "Economic Growth Evens Out Happiness: Evidence from Six Surveys," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 62(3), pages 405-419, September.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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