IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/31727.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

From Happiness Data to Economic Conclusions

Author

Listed:
  • Daniel J. Benjamin
  • Kristen Cooper
  • Ori Heffetz
  • Miles S. Kimball

Abstract

Happiness data—survey respondents’ self-reported well-being (SWB)—have become increasingly common in economics research, with recent calls to use them in policymaking. Researchers have used SWB data in novel ways, for example to learn about welfare or preferences when choice data are unavailable or difficult to interpret. Focusing on leading examples of this pioneering research, the first part of this review uses a simple theoretical framework to reverse-engineer some of the crucial assumptions that underlie existing applications. The second part discusses evidence bearing on these assumptions and provides practical advice to the agencies and institutions that generate SWB data, the researchers who use them, and the policymakers who may use the resulting research. While we advocate creative uses of SWB data in economics, we caution that their use in policy will likely require both additional data collection and further research to better understand the data.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel J. Benjamin & Kristen Cooper & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball, 2023. "From Happiness Data to Economic Conclusions," NBER Working Papers 31727, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:31727
    Note: AG EH LS PE
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w31727.pdf
    Download Restriction: Access to the full text is generally limited to series subscribers, however if the top level domain of the client browser is in a developing country or transition economy free access is provided. More information about subscriptions and free access is available at http://www.nber.org/wwphelp.html. Free access is also available to older working papers.
    ---><---

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Fleurbaey,Marc & Maniquet,François, 2011. "A Theory of Fairness and Social Welfare," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521715348, November.
    2. Daniel Kahneman & Peter P. Wakker & Rakesh Sarin, 1997. "Back to Bentham? Explorations of Experienced Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 112(2), pages 375-406.
    3. 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.
    4. Franco Peracchi & Claudio Rossetti, 2013. "The heterogeneous thresholds ordered response model: identification and inference," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 176(3), pages 703-722, June.
    5. Frijters, Paul & Clark, Andrew E. & Krekel, Christian & Layard, Richard, 2020. "A happy choice: wellbeing as the goal of government," Behavioural Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 4(2), pages 126-165, July.
    6. Chen, Le-Yu & Oparina, Ekaterina & Powdthavee, Nattavudh & Srisuma, Sorawoot, 2022. "Robust Ranking of Happiness Outcomes: A Median Regression Perspective," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 200(C), pages 672-686.
    7. Adler, Matthew D. & Dolan, Paul & Kavetsos, Georgios, 2017. "Would you choose to be happy? Tradeoffs between happiness and the other dimensions of life in a large population survey," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 60-73.
    8. Benjamin, Dan & Cooper, Kristen & Heffetz, Ori & Kimball, Miles, 2020. "Self-reported wellbeing indicators are a valuable complement to traditional economic indicators but are not yet ready to compete with them," Behavioural Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 4(2), pages 198-209, July.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. Mary Steffel & Daniel Oppenheimer, 2009. "Happy by What Standard? The Role of Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Comparisons in Ratings of Happiness," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 92(1), pages 69-79, May.
    12. Frey, Bruno S. & Stutzer, Alois, 2010. "Recent Advances in the Economics of Individual Subjective Well-Being," Working papers 2010/04, Faculty of Business and Economics - University of Basel.
    13. Alesina, Alberto & Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert, 2004. "Inequality and happiness: are Europeans and Americans different?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2009-2042, August.
    14. John F. Helliwell & Christopher P. Barrington‐Leigh, 2010. "Viewpoint: Measuring and understanding subjective well‐being," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 43(3), pages 729-753, August.
    15. Andrew E. Clark, 2018. "Four Decades of the Economics of Happiness: Where Next?," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 64(2), pages 245-269, June.
    16. George MacKerron, 2012. "Happiness Economics From 35 000 Feet," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(4), pages 705-735, September.
    17. Loomes, Graham & Sugden, Robert, 1982. "Regret Theory: An Alternative Theory of Rational Choice under Uncertainty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(368), pages 805-824, December.
    18. Deaton, Angus, 2018. "What do self-reports of wellbeing say about life-cycle theory and policy?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 162(C), pages 18-25.
    19. Kaiser, Caspar, 2022. "Using memories to assess the intrapersonal comparability of wellbeing reports," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 193(C), pages 410-442.
    20. Lane, Tom, 2017. "How does happiness relate to economic behaviour? A review of the literature," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 68(C), pages 62-78.
    21. Ori Heffetz & Daniel B. Reeves, 2019. "Difficulty of Reaching Respondents and Nonresponse Bias: Evidence from Large Government Surveys," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 101(1), pages 176-191, March.
    22. Hausman,Daniel M., 2012. "Preference, Value, Choice, and Welfare," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107695122, November.
    23. Datta Gupta, Nabanita & Kristensen, Nicolai & Pozzoli, Dario, 2010. "External validation of the use of vignettes in cross-country health studies," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 854-865, July.
    24. Daniel J. Benjamin & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Nichole Szembrot, 2014. "Beyond Happiness and Satisfaction: Toward Well-Being Indices Based on Stated Preference," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(9), pages 2698-2735, September.
    25. Schröder, Carsten & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 2017. "Revisiting the evidence for cardinal treatment of ordinal variables," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 337-358.
    26. Ludwig, Jens & Duncan, Greg J. & Katz, Lawrence F. & Kessler, Ronald & Kling, Jeffrey R. & Gennetian, Lisa A. & Sanbonmatsu, Lisa, 2012. "Neighborhood Effects on the Long-Term Well-Being of Low-Income Adults," Scholarly Articles 11870359, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    27. Viola Angelini & Danilo Cavapozzi & Luca Corazzini & Omar Paccagnella, 2014. "Do Danes and Italians Rate Life Satisfaction in the Same Way? Using Vignettes to Correct for Individual-Specific Scale Biases," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 76(5), pages 643-666, October.
    28. Andreoni, James, 1989. "Giving with Impure Altruism: Applications to Charity and Ricardian Equivalence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1447-1458, December.
    29. Teresa Bago d’Uva & Maarten Lindeboom & Owen O’Donnell & Eddy van Doorslaer, 2011. "Slipping Anchor?: Testing the Vignettes Approach to Identification and Correction of Reporting Heterogeneity," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 46(4), pages 875-906.
    30. Giustinelli, Pamela & Manski, Charles F. & Molinari, Francesca, 2022. "Tail and center rounding of probabilistic expectations in the Health and Retirement Study," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 231(1), pages 265-281.
    31. Angus Deaton, 2012. "The financial crisis and the well-being of Americans," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 64(1), pages 1-26, January.
    32. Weijters, Bert & Baumgartner, Hans & Geuens, Maggie, 2016. "The calibrated sigma method: An efficient remedy for between-group differences in response category use on Likert scales," International Journal of Research in Marketing, Elsevier, vol. 33(4), pages 944-960.
    33. Montgomery, Mallory, 2022. "Reversing the gender gap in happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 196(C), pages 65-78.
    34. David G. Blanchflower, 2021. "Is happiness U-shaped everywhere? Age and subjective well-being in 145 countries," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 34(2), pages 575-624, April.
    35. Hausman,Daniel M., 2012. "Preference, Value, Choice, and Welfare," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107015432, November.
    36. Fleurbaey, Marc & Blanchet, Didier, 2013. "Beyond GDP: Measuring Welfare and Assessing Sustainability," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199767199, Decembrie.
    37. Corrado, L. & Weeks, M., 2010. "Identification Strategies in Survey Response Using Vignettes," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1031, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    38. Jonathan Gruber & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2006. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier?," Palgrave Macmillan Books, in: Yew-Kwang Ng & Lok Sang Ho (ed.), Happiness and Public Policy, chapter 6, pages 109-146, Palgrave Macmillan.
    39. Bertoni, Marco, 2015. "Hungry today, unhappy tomorrow? Childhood hunger and subjective wellbeing later in life," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 40-53.
    40. Daniel J. Benjamin & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Alex Rees-Jones, 2014. "Can Marginal Rates of Substitution Be Inferred from Happiness Data? Evidence from Residency Choices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(11), pages 3498-3528, November.
    41. Angus Deaton & Arthur A. Stone, 2016. "Understanding context effects for a measure of life evaluation: how responses matter," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(4), pages 861-870.
    42. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Richard Layard, 2023. "Wellbeing: science and policy," CentrePiece - The magazine for economic performance 656, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    43. Paul Dolan & Daniel Kahneman, 2008. "Interpretations Of Utility And Their Implications For The Valuation Of Health," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(525), pages 215-234, January.
    44. David G. Blanchflower & Alex Bryson, 2023. "The Gender Well-being Gap," NBER Working Papers 31212, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    45. Shuo Liu & Nick Netzer, 2023. "Happy Times: Measuring Happiness Using Response Times," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 113(12), pages 3289-3322, December.
    46. Daniel J. Benjamin & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Alex Rees-Jones, 2012. "What Do You Think Would Make You Happier? What Do You Think You Would Choose?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 2083-2110, August.
    47. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2004. "How Important is Methodology for the estimates of the determinants of Happiness?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 641-659, July.
    48. Oswald, Andrew J. & Wu, Stephen, 2010. "Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-being: Evidence from the USA," IZA Discussion Papers 4695, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    49. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
    50. Jeffrey R. Bloem & Andrew J. Oswald, 2022. "The Analysis of Human Feelings: A Practical Suggestion for a Robustness Test," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 68(3), pages 689-710, September.
    51. Mark Fabian, 2022. "Scale Norming Undermines the Use of Life Satisfaction Scale Data for Welfare Analysis," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 23(4), pages 1509-1541, April.
    52. Daniel J. Benjamin & Kristen B. Cooper & Ori Heffetz & Miles Kimball, 2017. "Challenges in Constructing a Survey-Based Well-Being Index," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 81-85, May.
    53. David G. Blanchflower, 2020. "Is Happiness U-shaped Everywhere? Age and Subjective Well-being in 132 Countries," NBER Working Papers 26641, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    54. Arthur van Soest & Liam Delaney & Colm Harmon & Arie Kapteyn & James P. Smith, 2011. "Validating the use of anchoring vignettes for the correction of response scale differences in subjective questions," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 174(3), pages 575-595, July.
    55. Bernheim, B. Douglas, 2016. "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Unified Approach to Behavioral Welfare Economics1," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 12-68, April.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Daniel J Benjamin & Jakina Debnam Guzman & Marc Fleurbaey & Ori Heffetz & Miles Kimball, 2023. "What do Happiness Data Mean? Theory and Survey Evidence," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 21(6), pages 2377-2412.
    2. Kaiser, Caspar, 2022. "Using memories to assess the intrapersonal comparability of wellbeing reports," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 193(C), pages 410-442.
    3. Ferreira, Susana & Moro, Mirko & Welsch, Heinz, 2024. "Using Life Satisfaction and Happiness Data for Environmental Valuation: An Experienced Preference Approach," IZA Discussion Papers 16718, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. Koen Decancq & Marc Fleurbaey & Erik Schokkaert, 2015. "Happiness, Equivalent Incomes and Respect for Individual Preferences," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 82, pages 1082-1106, December.
    5. Dolan, Paul & Kavetsos, Georgios & Krekel, Christian & Mavridis, Dimitris & Metcalfe, Robert & Senik, Claudia & Szymanski, Stefan & Ziebarth, Nicolas R., 2019. "Quantifying the intangible impact of the Olympics using subjective well-being data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 177(C), pages 1-1.
    6. Kristen Cooper & Mark Fabian & Christian Krekel, 2023. "New approaches to measuring welfare," Fiscal Studies, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 44(2), pages 123-135, June.
    7. Perez-Truglia, Ricardo, 2015. "A Samuelsonian validation test for happiness data," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 74-83.
    8. Marcus Klemm, 2022. "Well-being Changes from Year to Year: A Comparison of Current, Remembered and Predicted Life Satisfaction," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 23(4), pages 1669-1681, April.
    9. Chen, Le-Yu & Oparina, Ekaterina & Powdthavee, Nattavudh & Srisuma, Sorawoot, 2022. "Robust Ranking of Happiness Outcomes: A Median Regression Perspective," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 200(C), pages 672-686.
    10. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & George Ward & Femke De Keulenaer & Bert Van Landeghem & Georgios Kavetsos & Michael I. Norton, 2018. "The Asymmetric Experience of Positive and Negative Economic Growth: Global Evidence Using Subjective Well-Being Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 100(2), pages 362-375, May.
    11. Carol Graham, 2005. "The Economics of Happiness," World Economics, World Economics, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 6(3), pages 41-55, July.
    12. O'Donnell, Gus & Oswald, Andrew J., 2015. "National well-being policy and a weighted approach to human feelings," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 59-70.
    13. DECANCQ, Koen & FLEURBAEY, Marc & SCHOKKAERT, Erik, 2014. "Inequality, income, and well-being," LIDAM Discussion Papers CORE 2014018, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
    14. Daniel J. Benjamin & Kristen Cooper & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Jiannan Zhou, 2023. "Adjusting for Scale-Use Heterogeneity in Self-Reported Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 31728, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Janina Nemitz, 2022. "Increasing longevity and life satisfaction: is there a catch to living longer?," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 35(2), pages 557-589, April.
    16. Jeffrey R. Bloem & Andrew J. Oswald, 2022. "The Analysis of Human Feelings: A Practical Suggestion for a Robustness Test," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 68(3), pages 689-710, September.
    17. David G. Blanchflower & Carol L. Graham, 2022. "The Mid-Life Dip in Well-Being: a Critique," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 161(1), pages 287-344, May.
    18. Akay, Alpaslan & Bargain, Olivier & Jara Tamayo, H. Xavier, 2023. "Experienced versus decision utility: large-scale comparison for income-leisure preferences," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 117746, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    19. van Hoorn, André, 2018. "Is the happiness approach to measuring preferences valid?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 73(C), pages 53-65.
    20. William H. Greene & Mark N. Harris & Rachel J. Knott & Nigel Rice, 2021. "Specification and testing of hierarchical ordered response models with anchoring vignettes," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 184(1), pages 31-64, January.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D9 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics
    • 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:31727. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    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 bibliographic 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.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: the person in charge (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/nberrus.html .

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

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.