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What do self - reports of wellbeing say about life - cycle theory and policy?

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  • Angus Deaton

    (Princeton University and University of Southern California)

Abstract

I respond to Atkinson's plea to revive welfare economics, and to considering alternative ethical frameworks when making policy recommendations. I examine a measure of self-reported evaluative wellbeing, the Cantril Ladder, and use data from Gallup to examine well-being over the life-cycle. I assess the validity of the measure, and show that it is hard to reconcile with familiar theories of intertemporal choice. I find a worldwide optimism about the future; in spite of repeated evidence to the contrary, people consistently but irrationally predict they will be better off five years from now. The gap between future and current wellbeing diminishes with age, and in rich countries, is negative among the elderly. I also use the measure to think about income transfers by age and sex. Policies that give priority those with low incomes favor the young and the old, while utilitarian policies favor the middle aged, and men over women.

Suggested Citation

  • Angus Deaton, 2018. "What do self - reports of wellbeing say about life - cycle theory and policy?," Working Papers 2018-02, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:rpdevs:2018-02
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Anthony B. Atkinson, 2011. "The Restoration of Welfare Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(3), pages 157-161, May.
    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. 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.
    4. Schwandt, Hannes, 2016. "Unmet aspirations as an explanation for the age U-shape in wellbeing," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 75-87.
    5. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox," CESifo Working Paper Series 2394, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger, 2006. "Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
    9. 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.
    10. repec:pri:cheawb:stone_schwartz_broderick_deaton_snapshot_of_the_age_distribution_of_psych is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Anne Case & Angua Deaton, 2015. "Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century," Working Papers 15078.full.pdf, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
    12. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
    13. 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.
    14. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gall is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Arthur A. Stone & Joseph E. Schwartz & Joan E. Broderick & Angus Deaton, 2010. "A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the United States," Working Papers 1230, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
    16. Atkinson, A B, 1971. "The Distribution of Wealth and the Individual Life-cycle," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(2), pages 239-254, July.
    17. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bart Los & Marcel Timmer, 2018. "Measuring Bilateral Exports of Value Added: A Unified Framework," NBER Chapters, in: The Challenges of Globalization in the Measurement of National Accounts, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Leonard I. Nakamura & Diane Coyle, 2019. "Toward a Framework for Time Use, Welfare, and Household Centric Economic Measurement," Working Papers 19-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, revised 12 Feb 2019.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • A20 - General Economics and Teaching - - Economic Education and Teaching of Economics - - - General
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General

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