IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/diw/diwsop/diw_sp55.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Set-Point Theory of Well-Being Needs Replacing: On the Brink of a Scientific Revolution?

Author

Listed:
  • Bruce Headey

Abstract

Set-point theory has dominated the field of subjective well-being (SWB). It has served as a classic Kuhn research paradigm, being extended and refined for thirty years totake in new results. The central plank of the theory is that adult set-points do not change, except just temporarily in the face of major life events. There was always some "discordant data", including evidence that some events are so tragic (e.g. the death of one's child) that people never recover back to their set-point. It was possible to dismiss these events as "exceptions" and maintain the theory. However, several new findings are now emerging, which it is increasingly difficult to dismiss as "exceptions" and which appear to require substantial revisions or replacement of set-point theory. Many of these findings are based on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey (SOEP, 1984 - ) which provides clear evidence of large, long term changes in the set-points of substantial minorities of the population. This paper reviews recent findings and highlights lines of theory development which, at minimum, represent substantial revisions to set-point theory and which may perhaps lead to replacement of the paradigm. There is evidence to suggest that individuals with certain personality traits are more likely to record long term change in SWB than others. Also, SWB appears to depend partly on choice/prioritisation of some life goals rather than others. Pursuit of non-zero sum goals (family and altruistic goals) leads to higher SWB than pursuit of zero sum goals (career advancement and material gains). Both these new lines of theory appear promising and the second, in particular, cannot sensibly be reconciled with set-point theory.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruce Headey, 2007. "The Set-Point Theory of Well-Being Needs Replacing: On the Brink of a Scientific Revolution?," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 55, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  • Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp55
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.diw.de/documents/publikationen/73/diw_01.c.68696.de/diw_sp0055.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. 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.
    2. Bruce Headey, 2006. "Happiness: Revising Set Point Theory and Dynamic Equilibrium Theory to Account for Long Term Change," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 607, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    3. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1978. "Economic Growth and Social Welfare: The Need for a Complete Study of Happiness," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 31(4), pages 575-587.
    4. Bruce Headey, 2006. "Life Goals Matter to Happiness: A Revision of Set-Point Theory," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 639, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Nikolaev, Boris & Burns, Ainslee, 2014. "Intergenerational mobility and subjective well-being—Evidence from the general social survey," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 82-96.
    2. Böhnke, Petra, 2009. "Abwärtsmobilität und ihre Folgen: Die Entwicklung von Wohlbefinden und Partizipation nach Verarmung," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Inequality and Social Integration SP I 2009-205, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
    3. Wunder, Christoph & Schwarze, Johannes, 2009. "Is Posner Right? An Empirical Test of the Posner Argument for Transferring Health Spending from Old Women to Old Men," IZA Discussion Papers 4485, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Lists

    This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:
    1. SOEP based publications

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp55. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Bibliothek). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/sodiwde.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.