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Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-being: Evidence from the USA

Author

Listed:
  • Oswald, Andrew J.

    () (University of Warwick)

  • Wu, Stephen

    () (Hamilton College)

Abstract

A huge research literature, across the behavioral and social sciences, uses information on individuals' subjective well-being. These are responses to questions – asked by survey interviewers or medical personnel – such as "how happy do you feel on a scale from 1 to 4?" Yet there is little scientific evidence that such data are meaningful. This study examines a 2005-2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System random sample of 1.3 million United States citizens. Life-satisfaction in each U.S. state is measured. Across America, people's answers trace out the same pattern of quality of life as previously estimated, using solely non-subjective data, in a literature from economics (so-called 'compensating differentials' neoclassical theory due originally to Adam Smith). There is a state-by-state match (r = 0.6, p

Suggested Citation

  • Oswald, Andrew J. & Wu, Stephen, 2010. "Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-being: Evidence from the USA," IZA Discussion Papers 4695, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4695
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    Keywords

    compensating differentials; well-being; happiness; spatial equilibrium;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

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