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Testing Theories of Happiness

Listed author(s):
  • Bruno S. Frey
  • Alois Stutzer

Happiness research in economics takes reported subjective well-being as a proxy measure for utility and has already provided many interesting insights about human well-being and its determinants. We argue that future research on happiness in economics has a lot of potential, but that it needs to be guided more by theory. We propose two ways to test theories of happiness, and illustrate them with two applications. First, reported subjective well-being can contribute towards a new understanding of utility in economics. Here, we study the introduction of income aspirations in individuals� utility functions in order to improve our understanding of how income affects individual well-being. Second, happiness data offers a new possibility of discriminating between different models of behavior. This is studied for theories of marriage, which crucially depend on auxiliary assumptions as to what contributes to well-being in marriage. Both applications are empirically tested with panel data for Germany.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 147.

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Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:147
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  1. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 0042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Alberto Alesina & Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2001. "Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1938, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  3. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1998. "Comparison-concave utility and following behaviour in social and economic settings," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 133-155, October.
  4. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 1999. "Measuring Preferences by Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 155(4), pages 755-778, December.
  5. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gächter, 2000. "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 159-181, Summer.
  6. Alex Michalos & Bruno Zumbo, 2000. "Criminal Victimization and the Quality of Life," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 50(3), pages 245-295, June.
  7. Clark, Andrew, 1993. "Job Satisfaction and Gender. Why are Women so Happy at Work?," Economics Discussion Papers 10015, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
  8. Robert A. Pollak, 2002. "Gary Becker's Contributions to Family and Household Economics," NBER Working Papers 9232, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Alois Stutzer & Bruno S. Frey, "undated". "Does Marriage Make People Happy, Or Do Happy People Get Married?," IEW - Working Papers 143, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  10. Gruber Jonathan H & Mullainathan Sendhil, 2005. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-45, July.
  11. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1994. "Satisfaction and comparison income," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9408, CEPREMAP.
  12. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, "undated". "What can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," IEW - Working Papers 080, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  13. Jody Overland & Christopher D. Carroll & David N. Weil, 2000. "Saving and Growth with Habit Formation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 341-355, June.
  14. Stutzer, Alois & Frey, Bruno S., 2004. "Stress That Doesn't Pay: The Commuting Paradox," IZA Discussion Papers 1278, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  15. Yoram Weiss, "undated". "The Formation and Dissolution of Families: Why Marry? Who Marries Whom? And What Happens Upon Marriage and Divorce," University of Chicago - Population Research Center 92-7a, Chicago - Population Research Center.
  16. Alois Stutzer & Rafael Lalive, 2004. "The Role of Social Work Norms in Job Searching and Subjective Well-Being," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(4), pages 696-719, 06.
  17. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-659, May.
  18. Chun, Hyunbae & Lee, Injae, 2001. "Why Do Married Men Earn More: Productivity or Marriage Selection?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(2), pages 307-319, April.
  19. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Marriage: Part II," NBER Chapters, in: Marriage, Family, Human Capital, and Fertility, pages 11-26 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Armin Falk & Markus Knell, "undated". "Choosing the Joneses On the Endogeneity of Reference Groups," IEW - Working Papers 053, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  21. John F. Helliwell, 2002. "How's Life? Combining Individual and National Variables to Explain Subjective Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 9065, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Becker, Gary S, 1973. "A Theory of Marriage: Part I," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(4), pages 813-846, July-Aug..
  23. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada, 2005. "Income and well-being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 997-1019, June.
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