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What predicts a successful life? A life-course model of well-being


  • Richard Layard

    (London School of Economics and Political Science)

  • Andrew Clark

    (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering)

  • Francesca Cornaglia

    (London School of Economics)

  • Nattavudh Powdthavee

    (London School of Economics)

  • James Vernoit

    (London School of Economics)


If policy-makers care about well-being, they need a recursive model of how adult life satisfaction is predicted by childhood influences, acting both directly and (indirectly) through adult circumstances. We estimate such a model using the British Cohort Study (1970).The most powerful childhood predictor of adult life-satisfaction is the child’s emotional health. Next comes the child’s conduct. The least powerful predictor is the child’s intellectual development. This has obvious implications for educational policy. Among adult circumstances, family income accounts for only 0.5% of the variance of life-satisfaction. Mental and physical health are much more important.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Layard & Andrew Clark & Francesca Cornaglia & Nattavudh Powdthavee & James Vernoit, 2013. "What predicts a successful life? A life-course model of well-being," Sciences Po Economics Discussion Papers 2013-16, Sciences Po Departement of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/6ggbvnr6munghes9oc90kh192

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-659, May.
    2. Christopher Boyce & Alex Wood & Nattavudh Powdthavee, 2013. "Is Personality Fixed? Personality Changes as Much as “Variable” Economic Factors and More Strongly Predicts Changes to Life Satisfaction," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 111(1), pages 287-305, March.
    3. Knapp, Martin & McDaid, David & Parsonage, Michael, 2011. "Mental health promotion and mental illness prevention: the economic case," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 32311, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    4. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman, 2008. "Formulating, Identifying and Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(4).
    5. Helliwell, John F., 2003. "How's life? Combining individual and national variables to explain subjective well-being," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 331-360, March.
    6. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman & Susanne M. Schennach, 2010. "Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(3), pages 883-931, May.
    7. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & James H. Fowler & Bruno S. Frey, 2010. "Genes, economics, and happiness," IEW - Working Papers 475, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    8. Heckman, James J., 2011. "Integrating Personality Psychology into Economics," IZA Discussion Papers 5950, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Almlund, Mathilde & Duckworth, Angela Lee & Heckman, James & Kautz, Tim, 2011. "Personality Psychology and Economics," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
    10. Andrew E. Clark & Richard Layard & Claudia Senik, 2012. "The causes of happiness and misery," Post-Print halshs-00846583, HAL.
    11. Frijters, Paul & Johnston, David W. & Shields, Michael A., 2011. "Destined for (Un)Happiness: Does Childhood Predict Adult Life Satisfaction?," IZA Discussion Papers 5819, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. Marcus Richards & Stephani L. Hatch, 2011. "A Life Course Approach to the Development of Mental Skills," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 66(suppl_1), pages 26-35.
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    More about this item


    Well-being; Life-satisfaction; Intervention; Model; Life-course; Emotional health; Conduct; Intellectual performance; Success;

    JEL classification:

    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • H00 - Public Economics - - General - - - General
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being


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