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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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    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," Economic Research Papers 270767, University of Warwick - Department of Economics.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    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. Timothy N. Bond & Kevin Lang, 2018. "The Black–White Education Scaled Test-Score Gap in Grades K-7," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 53(4), pages 891-917.
    8. Berman, Eli & Lang, Kevin & Siniver, Erez, 2003. "Language-skill complementarity: returns to immigrant language acquisition," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 265-290, June.
    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.
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    11. 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, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 116(2), pages 607-654.
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    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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