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Happiness, unhappiness, and suicide: an empirical assessment

  • Mary C. Daly
  • Daniel J. Wilson

The use of subjective well-being (SWB) data for investigating the nature of individual preferences has increased tremendously in recent years. There has been much debate about the cross-sectional and time series patterns found in these data, particularly with respect to the relationship between SWB and relative status. Part of this debate concerns how well SWB data measures true utility or preferences. In a recent paper, Daly, Wilson, and Johnson (2007) propose using data on suicide as a revealed preference (outcome-based) measure of well-being and find strong evidence that reference-group income negatively affects suicide risk. In this paper, we compare and contrast the empirical patterns of SWB and suicide data. We find that the two have very little in common in aggregate data (time series and cross-sectional), but have a strikingly strong relationship in terms of their determinants in individual-level, multivariate regressions. ; This latter result cross-validates suicide and SWB micro data as useful and complementary indicators of latent utility.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in its series Working Paper Series with number 2008-19.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2008-19
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  1. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 616, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  2. Sendhil Mullainathan & Marianne Bertrand, 2001. "Do People Mean What They Say? Implications for Subjective Survey Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 67-72, May.
  3. Miller, Douglas L. & Paxson, Christina, 2006. "Relative income, race, and mortality," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(5), pages 979-1003, September.
  4. Carlsson, Fredrik & Johansson-Stenman, Olof & Martinsson, Peter, 2003. "Do You Enjoy Having More Than Others? Survey Evidence of Positional Goods," Working Papers in Economics 100, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  5. Gardner, Jonathan & Oswald, Andrew J., 2006. "Money and Mental Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study of Medium-Sized Lottery Wins," IZA Discussion Papers 2233, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Luttmer, Erzo F. P., 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," Working Paper Series rwp04-029, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  7. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
  8. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada, 2005. "Income and well-being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 997-1019, June.
  9. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
  10. McBride, Michael, 2001. "Relative-income effects on subjective well-being in the cross-section," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 251-278, July.
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