IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?

  • Di Tella, Rafael
  • Alesina, Alberto
  • MacCulloch, Robert

We study the effect of the level of inequality in society on individual well-being using a total of 123,668 answers to a survey question about “happinessâ€. We find that individuals have a lower tendency to report themselves happy when inequality is high, even after controlling for individual income, a large set of personal characteristics, and year and country (or, in the case of the US, state) dummies. The effect, however, is more precisely defined statistically in Europe than in the US. In addition, we find striking differences across groups. In Europe, the poor and those on the left of the political spectrum are unhappy about inequality; whereas in the US the happiness of the poor and of those on the left is uncorrelated with inequality. Interestingly, in the US, the rich are bothered by inequality. Comparing across continents, we find that left-wingers in Europe are more hurt by inequality than left-wingers in the US. And the poor in Europe are more concerned with inequality than the poor in America, an effect that is large in terms of size but is only significant at the 10% level. We argue that these findings are consistent with the perception (not necessarily the reality) that Americans have been living in a mobile society, where individual effort can move people up and down the income ladder, while Europeans believe that they live in less mobile societies.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Harvard University Department of Economics in its series Scholarly Articles with number 4553007.

in new window

Date of creation: 2004
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Journal of Public Economics
Handle: RePEc:hrv:faseco:4553007
Contact details of provider: Postal: Littauer Center, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617-495-2144
Fax: 617-495-7730
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Kahneman, Daniel & Thaler, Richard H, 1991. "Economic Analysis and the Psychology of Utility: Applications to Compensation Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(2), pages 341-46, May.
  2. Bénabou, Roland & Ok, Efe, 1997. "Social Mobility and the Demand for Redistribution : the POUM Hypothesis," IDEI Working Papers 78, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse, revised 1999.
  3. Blanchflower, David G & Oswald, Andrew J, 1998. "What Makes an Entrepreneur?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 26-60, January.
  4. Alberto Alesina & Eliana La Ferrara, . "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," Working Papers 178, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  5. Michael Fordyce, 1988. "A review of research on the happiness measures: A sixty second index of happiness and mental health," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 20(4), pages 355-381, August.
  6. Hongyi Li & Lyn Squire & Tao Zhang & Heng-fu Zou, 1999. "A Data Set on Income Distribution," CEMA Working Papers 575, China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics.
  7. Alberto Alesina & Nouriel Roubini & Gerald D. Cohen, 1997. "Political Cycles and the Macroeconomy," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262510944, June.
  8. Wu, Ximing & Perloff, Jeffrey M. & Golan, Amos, 2002. "Effects of Government Policies on Income Distribution and Welfare," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt6jx7h62v, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
  9. Morawetz, David, 1977. "Income Distribution and Self-Rated Happiness: Some Empirical Evidence," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 87(347), pages 511-22, September.
  10. Rebecca M. Blank, 1997. "What Causes Public Assistance Caseloads to Grow?," NBER Working Papers 6343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2004. "Well-being over time in Britain and the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1359-1386, July.
  12. Alois Stutzer & Rafael Lalive, . "The Role of Social Work Norms in Job Searching and Subjective Well-Being," IEW - Working Papers 051, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  13. Yew-Kwang Ng, 1996. "Happiness surveys: Some comparability issues and an exploratory survey based on just perceivable increments," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 38(1), pages 1-27, May.
  14. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2000. "Happiness, Economy and Institutions," CESifo Working Paper Series 246, CESifo Group Munich.
  15. Checchi, Daniele & Ichino, Andrea & Rustichini, Aldo, 1999. "More equal but less mobile?: Education financing and intergenerational mobility in Italy and in the US," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 74(3), pages 351-393, December.
  16. Di Tella, R. & MacCulloch, R.J.: Oswald, A.J., 1997. "The Macroeconomics of Happiness," Papers 19, Centre for Economic Performance & Institute of Economics.
  17. 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.
  18. Piketty, Thomas, 1995. "Social Mobility and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(3), pages 551-84, August.
  19. Thurow, Lester C, 1971. "The Income Distribution as a Pure Public Good," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 85(2), pages 327-36, May.
  20. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2000. "Who wants to redistribute?: The tunnel effect in 1990s Russia," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 87-104, April.
  21. Konow, James & Earley, Joseph, 2008. "The Hedonistic Paradox: Is homo economicus happier," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(1-2), pages 1-33, February.
  22. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
  23. Di Tella, R. & MacCulloch, R., 1996. "An Emprirical Study of Unemployment Benefit Preferences," Economics Series Working Papers 99179, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  24. Tinbergen, Jan, 1991. "On the measurement of welfare," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1-2), pages 7-13, October.
  25. van Praag, Bernard M. S., 1991. "Ordinal and cardinal utility : An integration of the two dimensions of the welfare concept," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1-2), pages 69-89, October.
  26. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2001. "Beyond Bentham – Measuring Procedural Utility," CESifo Working Paper Series 492, CESifo Group Munich.
  27. Meltzer, Allan H & Richard, Scott F, 1981. "A Rational Theory of the Size of Government," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 914-27, October.
  28. Moulton, Brent R., 1986. "Random group effects and the precision of regression estimates," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 385-397, August.
  29. Bjorklund, Anders & Jantti, Markus, 1997. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in Sweden Compared to the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 1009-18, December.
  30. Kahneman, Daniel & Wakker, Peter P & Sarin, Rakesh, 1997. "Back to Bentham? Explorations of Experienced Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 375-405, May.
  31. Romer, Thomas, 1975. "Individual welfare, majority voting, and the properties of a linear income tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 163-185, February.
  32. Tanzi,Vito & Schuknecht,Ludger, 2000. "Public Spending in the 20th Century," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521664103, October.
  33. Klaus Deininger & Lyn Squire, 1996. "A New Data Set Measuring Income Inequality," CEMA Working Papers 512, China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics.
  34. Braun T.M. & Feng Z., 2001. "Optimal Permutation Tests for the Analysis of Group Randomized Trials," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 96, pages 1424-1432, December.
  35. Giacomo Corneo, 2000. "Inequality and the State: Comparing U.S. and German Preferences," CESifo Working Paper Series 398, CESifo Group Munich.
  36. Anthony B. Atkinson & Andrea Brandolini, 2000. "Promise and Pitfalls in the Use of 'Secondary' Data-Sets: Income Inequality in OECD Countries," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 379, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
  37. Alberto Alesina & Edward Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Why Doesn't the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 32(2), pages 187-278.
  38. Augurzky, Boris & Schmidt, Christoph M., 2001. "The Evaluation of Community-Based Interventions: A Monte Carlo Study," IZA Discussion Papers 270, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  39. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hrv:faseco:4553007. 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: (Ben Steinberg)

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 references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link 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 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.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.