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The Sad Truth About Happiness Scales

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  • Timothy N. Bond
  • Kevin Lang

Abstract

We show that, without strong auxiliary assumptions, it is impossible to rank groups by average happiness using survey data with a few potential responses. The categories represent intervals along some continuous distribution. The implied CDFs of these distributions will (almost) always cross when estimated using large samples. Therefore some monotonic transformation of the utility function will reverse the ranking. We provide several examples and a formal proof. Whether Moving-to-Opportunity increases happiness, men have become happier relative to women, and an Easterlin paradox exists depends on whether happiness is distributed normally or log-normally. We discuss restrictions that may permit such comparisons.

Suggested Citation

  • Timothy N. Bond & Kevin Lang, 2014. "The Sad Truth About Happiness Scales," NBER Working Papers 19950, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19950
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w19950.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "On the curvature of the reporting function from objective reality to subjective feelings," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(3), pages 369-372, September.
    2. Hammond, Peter J. & Liberini, Federica & Proto, Eugenio, 2011. "Individual Welfare and Subjective Well-Being : Commentary Inspired by Sacks, Stevenson and Wolfers," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 957, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    3. 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.
    4. Jens Ludwig & Greg J. Duncan & Lisa A. Gennetian & Lawrence F. Katz & Ronald C. Kessler & Jeffrey R. Kling & Lisa Sanbonmatsu, 2013. "Long-Term Neighborhood Effects on Low-Income Families: Evidence from Moving to Opportunity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 226-231, May.
    5. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2009. "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 190-225, August.
    6. Timothy N. Bond & Kevin Lang, 2013. "The Evolution of the Black-White Test Score Gap in Grades K–3: The Fragility of Results," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(5), pages 1468-1479, December.
    7. Andrew E. Clark & Sarah Flèche & Claudia Senik, 2016. "Economic Growth Evens Out Happiness: Evidence from Six Surveys," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 62(3), pages 405-419, September.
    8. Lawrence F. Katz & Jeffrey R. Kling & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2001. "Moving to Opportunity in Boston: Early Results of a Randomized Mobility Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 607-654.
    9. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Happiness Inequality in the United States," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(S2), pages 33-79, June.
    10. Timothy N. Bond & Kevin Lang, 2013. "The Black-White Education-Scaled Test-Score Gap in Grades K-7," NBER Working Papers 19243, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Kevin J. Mumford, 2016. "Prosperity, Sustainability and the Measurement of Wealth," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 3(2), pages 226-234, May.
    2. Rob Pryce & Ian Walker & Rhys Wheeler, 2017. "How much of a problem is problem gambling?," Working Papers 167235280, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    3. Jolliffe,Dean Mitchell & Dang,Hai-Anh H. & Carletto,Calogero & Dang,Hai-Anh H. & Jolliffe,Dean Mitchell & Carletto,Calogero, 2017. "Data gaps, data incomparability, and data imputation : a review of poverty measurement methods for data-scarce environments," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8282, The World Bank.
    4. John Gibson, 2016. "Poverty Measurement: We Know Less than Policy Makers Realize," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 3(3), pages 430-442, September.
    5. Bond, Timothy N. & Bulman, George & Li, Xiaoxiao & Smith, Jonathan, 2016. "Updating Human Capital Decisions: Evidence from SAT Score Shocks and College Applications," MPRA Paper 72497, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Topa, Giorgio & Zenou, Yves, 2015. "Neighborhood and Network Effects," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.
    7. repec:bla:jorssa:v:180:y:2017:i:1:p:3-43 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Jan Goebel & Christian Krekel & Tim Tiefenbach & Nicolas Ziebarth, 2015. "How natural disasters can affect environmental concerns, risk aversion, and even politics: evidence from Fukushima and three European countries," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 28(4), pages 1137-1180, October.
    9. repec:spr:soinre:v:136:y:2018:i:3:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1477-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Frank A Cowell & Martyna Kobus & Radoslaw Kurek, 2017. "Welfare and Inequality Comparisons for Uni- and Multi-dimensional Distributions of Ordinal Data," STICERD - Public Economics Programme Discussion Papers 31, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    11. Martin Ravallion, 2017. "Global Inequality when Unequal Countries Create Unequal People," NBER Working Papers 24177, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Bond, Timothy N. & Lehmann, Jee-Yeon K., 2018. "Prejudice and racial matches in employment," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 271-293.
    13. Bond, Timothy N. & Bulman, George & Li, Xiaoxiao & Smith, Jonathan, 2016. "Updated Expectations and College Application Portfolios," MPRA Paper 69317, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Martyna Kobus & Radoslaw Kurek, 2017. "Copula-based measurement of interdependence for discrete distributions," Working Papers 431, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
    15. Jason Fletcher & Norma Padrón, 2016. "The effects of teenage childbearing on adult soft skills development," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 29(3), pages 883-910, July.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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