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International Evidence on the Social Context of Well-Being

Author

Listed:
  • John F. Helliwell
  • Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh
  • Anthony Harris
  • Haifang Huang

Abstract

This paper uses the first three waves of the Gallup World Poll to investigate differences across countries, cultures and regions in the factors linked to life satisfaction, paying special attention to the social context. Our principal findings are: First, using the larger pooled sample, we find that answers to the satisfaction with life and Cantril ladder questions provide consistent views of what constitutes a good life, with an average of the two measures providing a clearer picture than either measure on its own. Second, we find strong evidence for the importance of both income and social context variables in explaining within-country and international differences in well-being. For most specifications tested, the combined effects of a few measures of the social and institutional context are as large as those of income in explaining both international and intra-national differences in life satisfaction. Third, the very significant influences of both income and social factors permit the calculation of compensating differentials for social factors. We find very large income-equivalent values for key measures of the social context. Fourth, the international similarity of the estimated equations suggests that the large international differences in average life evaluations are not due to different approaches to the meaning of a good life, but to differing social, institutional, and economic life circumstances.

Suggested Citation

  • John F. Helliwell & Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh & Anthony Harris & Haifang Huang, 2009. "International Evidence on the Social Context of Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 14720, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14720 Note: HE IFM LS PE
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w14720.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(8), pages 1733-1749, April.
    2. Angus Deaton, 2008. "Income, Health, and Well-Being around the World: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 53-72, Spring.
    3. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 39(1 (Spring), pages 1-102.
    4. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gallup_world_poll_jep_spring2008.pdf is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2005. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 963-1002.
    6. Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh & John F. Helliwell, 2008. "Empathy and Emulation: Life Satisfaction and the Urban Geography of Comparison Groups," NBER Working Papers 14593, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Andrew E. Clark & Orsolya Lelkes, 2009. "Let us pray: religious interactions in life satisfaction," PSE Working Papers halshs-00566120, HAL.
    8. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gallup_world_poll_jep_spring2008 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. John F. Helliwell, 2008. "Life Satisfaction and Quality of Development," NBER Working Papers 14507, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • O0 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - General
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • P51 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems - - - Comparative Analysis of Economic Systems
    • P52 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems - - - Comparative Studies of Particular Economies

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