IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/21900.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Welfare Costs of Well-being Inequality

Author

Listed:
  • Leonard Goff
  • John F. Helliwell
  • Guy Mayraz

Abstract

If satisfaction with life (SWL) is used to measure individual wellbeing, the dispersion of its distribution offers a comprehensive measure of inequality that subsumes the many and various component forms of inequality in particular domains. The cross-country correlation between the level of SWL and its dispersion may thus offer a useful measure of the degree to which happiness differences are related to differences in inequality. A major concern, however, is spurious correlation due to the bounded scale on which SWL is reported. We examine this possibility, and show (i) that the correlation between SWL and its dispersion is only marginally attenuated when allowing for bounded scale reporting, including a purely ordinal measure of dispersion, (ii) that it is stronger in the subset of individuals who care most about inequality, and (iii) that it extends to contributors of SWL that are known to be affected by inequality, with SWL levels ruled out as a mediating variable. These findings allay the concern with spurious correlation, and support the use of the SWL dispersion as a comprehensive measure of inequality. Among rich countries, differences in the variance of SWL explain about as much of the difference in mean SWL as differences in GDP per capita.

Suggested Citation

  • Leonard Goff & John F. Helliwell & Guy Mayraz, 2016. "The Welfare Costs of Well-being Inequality," NBER Working Papers 21900, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21900
    Note: DEV PE POL
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w21900.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Indranil Dutta & James Foster, 2011. "Inequality of Happiness in US: 1972-2008," The School of Economics Discussion Paper Series 1110, Economics, The University of Manchester.
    2. Becker, Gary S, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1063-1093, Nov.-Dec..
    3. Bruno S. Frey & Simon Luechinger & Alois Stutzer, 2007. "Calculating Tragedy: Assessing The Costs Of Terrorism," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(1), pages 1-24, February.
    4. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
    5. Stephen Knack & Philip Keefer, 1997. "Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross-Country Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1251-1288.
    6. Jan Ott, 2005. "Level and Inequality of Happiness in Nations: Does Greater Happiness of a Greater Number Imply Greater Inequality in Happiness?," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 6(4), pages 397-420, December.
    7. Christian Bjørnskov, 2007. "Determinants of generalized trust: A cross-country comparison," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 130(1), pages 1-21, January.
    8. Layard, R. & Mayraz, G. & Nickell, S., 2008. "The marginal utility of income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(8-9), pages 1846-1857, August.
    9. 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.
    10. Bernard M. S. van Praag & Barbara E. Baarsma, 2005. "Using Happiness Surveys to Value Intangibles: The Case of Airport Noise," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(500), pages 224-246, January.
    11. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434-434.
    12. Angus Deaton, 2010. "Price Indexes, Inequality, and the Measurement of World Poverty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(1), pages 5-34, March.
    13. repec:pri:rpdevs:presidential%20address%2017january%202010%20all.pdf is not listed on IDEAS
    14. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309-309.
    15. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2008. "Relative Income, Happiness, and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(1), pages 95-144, March.
    16. repec:pri:rpdevs:presidential%20address%2017january%202010%20all is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2006. "Some Uses of Happiness Data in Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 25-46, Winter.
    18. Derek Neal & Armin Rick, 2014. "The Prison Boom and the Lack of Black Progress after Smith and Welch," NBER Working Papers 20283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Bolle, Friedel & Okhrin, Yarema & Vogel, Claudia, 2009. "A note on interdependent happiness," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 38(5), pages 713-721, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The Welfare Costs of Well-being Inequality
      by maximorossi in NEP-LTV blog on 2016-03-29 19:01:40

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. John F. Helliwell & Haifang Huang & Shun Wang, 2016. "New Evidence on Trust and Well-being," NBER Working Papers 22450, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. repec:eee:ecolet:v:163:y:2018:i:c:p:17-21 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Michal Brzezinski, 2017. "Diagnosing unhappiness dynamics: Evidence from Poland and Russia," Working Papers 2017-27, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21900. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/nberrus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.