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Measuring Quality of Life in Latin America: What Happiness Research Can (and Cannot) Contribute

  • Carol Graham
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    This paper the issues involved in taking a broader, quality of life-based approach rather than an income-based approach to assessing welfare. Using tools provided by the economics of happiness and relying on both large-scale surveys and field research in Latin America, the paper shows how a quality of life approach can help to evaluate the welfare effects of factors ranging from health, education, and unemployment status to institutional arrangements such as inequality and opportunity. Nonetheless, directly inferring policy implications from the results is problematic because of factors including norms and expectations based on differences in the way individuals answer questions to surveys and lack of clarity in the definition of happiness. The latter allows for research comparisons across individuals and cultures but presents challenges as a basis for policymaking.

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    Paper provided by Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department in its series Research Department Publications with number 4598.

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    Date of creation: Nov 2008
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:idb:wpaper:4598
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    1. Oswald, Andrew, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 478, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    2. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger & David Schkade & Norbert Schwarz & Arthur Stone, 2004. "Toward National Well-Being Accounts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 429-434, May.
    3. Alberto Alesina & Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2001. "Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?," NBER Working Papers 8198, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Carol Graham & Andrew Felton, 2006. "Inequality and happiness: Insights from Latin America," Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer, vol. 4(1), pages 107-122, April.
    5. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
    6. 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.
    7. Di Tella, Rafael & Haisken-De New, John & MacCulloch, Robert, 2010. "Happiness adaptation to income and to status in an individual panel," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 834-852, December.
    8. Miguel Székely & Nancy Birdsall & Jere R. Behrman, 2000. "Economics Reform and Wage Differentials in Latin America," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 6476, Inter-American Development Bank.
    9. 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.
    10. Eggers, Andrew & Gaddy, Clifford & Graham, Carol, 2006. "Well-being and unemployment in Russia in the 1990s: Can society's suffering be individuals' solace?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 209-242, April.
    12. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 2000. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," NBER Working Papers 7487, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Alois Stutzer & Rafael Lalive, 2004. "The Role of Social Work Norms in Job Searching and Subjective Well-Being," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(4), pages 696-719, 06.
    14. John F. Helliwell, 2004. "Well-Being and Social Capital: Does Suicide Pose a Puzzle?," NBER Working Papers 10896, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Sen, Amartya, 1995. "Rationality and Social Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(1), pages 1-24, March.
    16. Graham, Carol & Eggers, Andrew & Sukhtankar, Sandip, 2004. "Does happiness pay?: An exploration based on panel data from Russia," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 55(3), pages 319-342, November.
    17. Jonathan Gruber & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier?," NBER Working Papers 8872, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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