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Historical Analysis of National Subjective Wellbeing Using Millions of Digitized Books


  • Thomas Hills
  • Eugenio Proto
  • Daniel Sgroi


We present the first attempt to construct a long-run historical measure of subjective wellbeing using language corpora from millions of digitized books for the USA, UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. While existing measures go back at most to the 1970s, our measure goes back at least 200 years further. Our measure correlates positively with existing wellbeing measures where available. The relationship with life expectancy is significant and positive. Infant mortality correlates negatively and independently from the effect of life expectancy. There is no correlation with GDP. Econometric analysis of the data is undertaken to control for potentially confounding factors.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Hills & Eugenio Proto & Daniel Sgroi, 2016. "Historical Analysis of National Subjective Wellbeing Using Millions of Digitized Books," CESifo Working Paper Series 5906, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_5906

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Robert J. MacCulloch & Rafael Di Tella & Andrew J. Oswald, 2001. "Preferences over Inflation and Unemployment: Evidence from Surveys of Happiness," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 335-341, March.
    3. Hodrick, Robert J & Prescott, Edward C, 1997. "Postwar U.S. Business Cycles: An Empirical Investigation," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 29(1), pages 1-16, February.
    4. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gall is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Mike Thelwall & Kevan Buckley & Georgios Paltoglou, 2011. "Sentiment in Twitter events," Journal of the Association for Information Science & Technology, Association for Information Science & Technology, vol. 62(2), pages 406-418, February.
    6. Daniel J. Benjamin & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Alex Rees-Jones, 2012. "What Do You Think Would Make You Happier? What Do You Think You Would Choose?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 2083-2110, August.
    7. M. Keith Chen, 2011. "The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1820, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University, revised Dec 2012.
    8. Peter Dodds & Christopher Danforth, 2010. "Measuring the Happiness of Large-Scale Written Expression: Songs, Blogs, and Presidents," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 11(4), pages 441-456, August.
    9. M. Keith Chen, 2013. "The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(2), pages 690-731, April.
    10. Jerven, Morten, 2012. "An unlevel playing field: national income estimates and reciprocal comparison in global economic history," Journal of Global History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(01), pages 107-128, March.
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    More about this item


    historical subjective wellbeing; language; big data; Google Books; GDP; conflict; Easterlin paradox;

    JEL classification:

    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N40 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General


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