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Choices Which Change Life Satisfaction: Similar Results for Australia, Britain and Germany

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Listed:
  • Bruce Headey
  • Ruud Muffels
  • Gert G. Wagner

Abstract

Using data from national socio-economic panel surveys in Australia, Britain and Germany, this paper analyzes the effects of individual preferences and choices on subjective well-being (SWB). It is shown that, in all three countries, preferences and choices relating to life goals/values, partner's personality, hours of work, social participation and healthy lifestyle have substantial and similar effects on life satisfaction. The results have negative implications for a widely accepted theory of SWB, set-point theory. This theory holds that adult SWB is stable in the medium and long term, although temporary fluctuations occur due to life events. Set-point theory has come under increasing criticism in recent years, primarily due to unmistakable evidence in the German Socio-Economic Panel that, during the last 25 years, over a third of the population has recorded substantial and apparently permanent changes in life satisfaction (Fujita and Diener, 2005; Headey, 2008a; Headey, Muffels and Wagner, 2010). It is becoming clear that the main challenge now for SWB researchers is to develop new explanations which can account for medium and long term change, and not merely stability in SWB. Set-point theory is limited precisely because it is purely a theory of stability. The paper is based on specially constructed panel survey files in which data are divided into multi-year periods in order to facilitate analysis of medium and long term change.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruce Headey & Ruud Muffels & Gert G. Wagner, 2010. "Choices Which Change Life Satisfaction: Similar Results for Australia, Britain and Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 302, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  • Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp302
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Bruce Headey, 2008. "Life Goals Matter to Happiness: A Revision of Set-Point Theory," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 86(2), pages 213-231, April.
    2. Frank, Robert H, 1985. "The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 101-116, March.
    3. Andrew E. Clark & Ed Diener & Yannis Georgellis & Richard E. Lucas, 2008. "Lags And Leads in Life Satisfaction: a Test of the Baseline Hypothesis," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(529), pages 222-243, June.
    4. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2002. "What Can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 402-435, June.
    5. Paul Frijters & John P. Haisken-DeNew & Michael A. Shields, 2004. "Money Does Matter! Evidence from Increasing Real Income and Life Satisfaction in East Germany Following Reunification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 730-740, June.
    6. Denis Gerstorf & Nilam Ram & Guy Mayraz & Mira Hidajat & Ulman Lindenberger & Gert G. Wagner & Jürgen Schupp, 2010. "Late-Life Decline in Well-Being across Adulthood in Germany, the UK, and the US: Something Is Seriously Wrong at the End of Life," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 286, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    7. Bruce Headey, 2006. "Subjective Well-Being: Revisions to Dynamic Equilibrium Theory using National Panel Data and Panel Regression Methods," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 79(3), pages 369-403, December.
    8. Bruce Headey, 2008. "The Set-Point Theory of Well-Being: Negative Results and Consequent Revisions," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 85(3), pages 389-403, February.
    9. Gert G. Wagner & Joachim R. Frick & Jürgen Schupp, 2007. "The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP) – Scope, Evolution and Enhancements," Schmollers Jahrbuch : Journal of Applied Social Science Studies / Zeitschrift für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, vol. 127(1), pages 139-169.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bruce Headey & Ruud Muffels, 2016. "Towards a Theory of Life Satisfaction: Accounting for Stability, Change and Volatility in 25-Year Life Trajectories in Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 864, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    2. Robert Cummins & Ning Li & Mark Wooden & Mark Stokes, 2014. "A Demonstration of Set-Points for Subjective Wellbeing," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 183-206, February.
    3. Christopher Ambrey & Christopher Fleming, 2014. "Life Satisfaction in Australia: Evidence from Ten Years of the HILDA Survey," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 115(2), pages 691-714, January.
    4. Bruce Headey & Ruud Muffels & Gert Wagner, 2014. "Parents Transmit Happiness Along with Associated Values and Behaviors to Their Children: A Lifelong Happiness Dividend?," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 116(3), pages 909-933, May.
    5. Ruud Muffels & Bruce Headey, 2013. "Capabilities and Choices: Do They Make Sen’se for Understanding Objective and Subjective Well-Being? An Empirical Test of Sen’s Capability Framework on German and British Panel Data," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 110(3), pages 1159-1185, February.
    6. repec:spr:soinre:v:134:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1430-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Haridhan Goswami, 2012. "Social Relationships and Children’s Subjective Well-Being," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 107(3), pages 575-588, July.
    8. Swee Ang & Elison Lim & Siew Leong & Zhaonan Chen, 2015. "In Pursuit of Happiness: Effects of Mental Subtraction and Alternative Comparison," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 122(1), pages 87-103, May.
    9. Silvia Maja Melzer & Ruud J. Muffels, 2012. "Migrant's Pursuit of Happiness: The Impact of Adaption, Social Comparison and Relative Deprivation; Evidence from a 'Natural' Experiment," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 448, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    10. Matthew Manning & Christopher L. Ambrey & Christopher M. Fleming, 2016. "A Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Wellbeing in Australia," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 17(6), pages 2503-2525, December.
    11. Bruce Headey & Ruud Muffels, 2016. "Towards a Theory of Medium Term Life Satisfaction: Two-Way Causation Partly Explains Persistent Satisfaction or Dissatisfaction," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 129(2), pages 937-960, November.
    12. Angela Faßhauer & Katrin Rehdanz, 2015. "Estimating Benefits from Regional Amenities: Internal Migration and Life Satisfaction," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 748, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    13. Krzysztof Zagorski & Mariah Evans & Jonathan Kelley & Katarzyna Piotrowska, 2014. "Does National Income Inequality Affect Individuals’ Quality of Life in Europe? Inequality, Happiness, Finances, and Health," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 117(3), pages 1089-1110, July.
    14. repec:spr:jhappi:v:18:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10902-016-9744-y is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    set-point theory; life goals/values; individual choice; panel regression analysis; BHPS; HILDA; SOEP;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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