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Will GDP Growth Increase Happiness in Developing Countries?

  • Clark, Andrew E.
  • Senik, Claudia

This paper asks what low-income countries can expect from growth in terms of happiness. It interprets the set of available international evidence pertaining to the relationship between income growth and subjective well-being. Conforming to the Easterlin paradox, higher income always correlates with higher happiness, except in one case: whether national income growth yields higher well-being is still hotly debated; essentially, the question is whether the correlation coefficient is “too small to matter”. The explanations for the small correlation between income growth and subjective well-being over time appeal to the nature of growth itself (e.g. negative side-effects such as pollution), and to the psychological importance of relative concerns and adaptation. The available evidence contains two important lessons: income comparisons do seem to affect subjective well-being even in very poor countries; however, adaptation may be more of a rich country phenomenon. Our stand is that the idea that growth will increase happiness in low-income countries cannot be rejected on the basis of the available evidence. First, cross-country time-series analyses are based on aggregate measures, which are less reliable than individual ones. Second, development is a qualitative process that involves take-offs and thresholds. Such regime changes are eye-visible through the lens of subjective satisfaction measures. The case of Transition countries is particularly impressive in this respect: average life satisfaction scores closely mirror changes in GDP for about the first ten years of the transition process, until the regime becomes more stable. If subjective measures of well-being were made available in low-income countries, they would certainly help measuring and monitoring the different stages and dimensions of the development process.

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Paper provided by CEPREMAP in its series CEPREMAP Working Papers (Docweb) with number 1024.

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Length: 75 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpm:docweb:1024
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  1. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2002. "How important is Methodology for the Estimates of the Determinants of Happiness?," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 02-024/3, Tinbergen Institute.
  2. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 2005. "Happiness and the Human Development Index: The Paradox of Australia," NBER Working Papers 11416, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert J. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "The Macroeconomics of Happiness," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 615, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  4. Vinod Mishra & Ingrid Nielsen & Russell Smyth, 2010. "Relative Income, Temporary Life Shocks and Subjective Wellbeing in the Long-run," Monash Economics Working Papers 51-10, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  5. Akay, Alpaslan & Martinsson, Peter, 2010. "Does relative income matter for the very poor? - Evidence from rural Ethiopia," Working Papers in Economics 475, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  6. 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.
  7. Olof Johansson-Stenman & Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala, 2002. "Measuring Future Grandparents" Preferences for Equality and Relative Standing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 362-383, April.
  8. Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert, 2008. "Gross national happiness as an answer to the Easterlin Paradox?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 86(1), pages 22-42, April.
  9. Bernard M.S. van Praag & Paul Frijters, 1999. "The measurement of welfare and well-being; the Leyden approach," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 071a, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.
  10. Easterlin, Richard A., 2009. "Lost in transition: Life satisfaction on the road to capitalism," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 130-145, August.
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