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Genes, economics, and happiness

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  • Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
  • James H. Fowler
  • Bruno S. Frey

Abstract

Research on happiness has produced valuable insights into the sources of subjective well-being that are of importance to economics. A major finding from this literature is that people exhibit a 'baseline' level of happiness that shows persistent strength over time. Here we explore the extent to which baseline happiness is infl uenced by genetic variation. Using data from Add Health, we employ a twin study design to show that genetic variation explains about 33% of the variation in happiness, and that the infl uence of genes varies by gender (women 26%, men 39%) and tends to rise with age. We also present evidence that variation in a speci c gene predicts happiness. Individuals with a transcriptionally more efficient version of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) are significantly more likely to report higher levels of life satisfaction - having one or two alleles of the more efficient type raises the average likelihood of being very satisfied with one's life by 8.5% and 17.3%, respectively. Finally, using data from an independent source (the Framingham Heart Study) we show that a linked single nucleotide polymorphism (rs2020933) in the SLC6A4 gene also predicts life satisfaction. These results are the first to identify a specific gene that may be associated with baseline levels of happiness.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:475
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    Cited by:

    1. De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel & Fowler, James H., 2014. "Credit card borrowing and the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 107(PB), pages 428-439.
    2. Richard Layard & Andrew E. Clark & Francesca Cornaglia & Nattavudh Powdthavee & James Vernoit, 2014. "What Predicts a Successful Life? A Life‐course Model of Well‐being," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 124(580), pages 720-738, November.
    3. Adrian Chadi, 2014. "Regional unemployment and norm-induced effects on life satisfaction," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 46(3), pages 1111-1141, May.
    4. Anna Matysiak & Letizia Mencarini & Daniele Vignoli, 2016. "Work–Family Conflict Moderates the Relationship Between Childbearing and Subjective Well-Being," European Journal of Population, Springer;European Association for Population Studies, vol. 32(3), pages 355-379, August.
    5. AMENDOLA, Adalgiso & DELL'ANNO, Roberto & PARISI, Lavinia, 2020. "Why Some People Are Not As Happy As They Could Be: The Role of Unobservable Subjective Factors," CELPE Discussion Papers 162, CELPE - Centre of Labour Economics and Economic Policy, University of Salerno, Italy.
    6. Hideyuki Mizobuchi, 2017. "Measuring Socio-economic Factors and Sensitivity of Happiness," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 18(2), pages 463-504, April.
    7. Violeta Misheva, 2016. "What Determines Emotional Well-Being? The Role of Adverse Experiences: Evidence Using Twin Data," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 17(5), pages 1921-1937, October.
    8. Eugenio Proto & Andrew J. Oswald, 2017. "National Happiness and Genetic Distance: A Cautious Exploration," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 127(604), pages 2127-2152, September.
    9. Otrachshenko, Vladimir & Popova, Olga, 2014. "Life (dis)satisfaction and the intention to migrate: Evidence from Central and Eastern Europe," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 40-49.
    10. Lorenz, Olga, 2018. "Does commuting matter to subjective well-being?," Journal of Transport Geography, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 180-199.
    11. Morris, Eric A., 2015. "Should we all just stay home? Travel, out-of-home activities, and life satisfaction," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 519-536.
    12. Isabel Neira & Maricruz Lacalle-Calderon & Marta Portela & Manuel Perez-Trujillo, 2019. "Social Capital Dimensions and Subjective Well-Being: A Quantile Approach," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 20(8), pages 2551-2579, December.
    13. Hans-Peter Kohler & Letizia Mencarini, 2016. "The Parenthood Happiness Puzzle: An Introduction to Special Issue," European Journal of Population, Springer;European Association for Population Studies, vol. 32(3), pages 327-338, August.
    14. Richard Layard & Andrew E. Clark & Francesca Cornaglia & Nattavudh Powdthavee & James Vernoit, 2014. "What Predicts a Successful Life? A Life‐course Model of Well‐being," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 124(580), pages 720-738, November.
    15. Nikolova, Milena & Popova, Olga, 2020. "Sometimes your best just ain't good enough: The worldwide evidence on subjective well-being efficiency," GLO Discussion Paper Series 596, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    16. Anna Matysiak & Letizia Mencarini & Daniele Vignoli, 2015. "Work-family Conflict Moderates the Impact of Childbearing on Subjective Well-Being," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 435, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
    17. Paul Allin & David J. Hand, 2017. "New statistics for old?—measuring the wellbeing of the UK," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 180(1), pages 3-43, January.
    18. Bernd Lachmann & Anna Doebler & Cornelia Sindermann & Rayna Sariyska & Andrew Cooper & Heidrun Haas & Christian Montag, 2021. "The Molecular Genetics of Life Satisfaction: Extending Findings from a Recent Genome-Wide Association Study and Examining the Role of the Serotonin Transporter," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 22(1), pages 305-322, January.
    19. Vanessa Mertins & Andrea B. Schote & Jobst Meyer, 2013. "Variants of the Monoamine Oxidase A Gene (MAOA) Predict Free-riding Behavior in Women in a Strategic Public Goods Experiment," IAAEU Discussion Papers 201302, Institute of Labour Law and Industrial Relations in the European Union (IAAEU).
    20. Ehsan Latif, 2016. "Happiness and Comparison Income: Evidence from Canada," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 161-177, August.
    21. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Ed Diener & Louis Tay & Cody Xuereb, 2013. "The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-Being," CEP Discussion Papers dp1236, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    22. Tobias Wolbring, 2017. "Home Sweet Home! Does Moving Have (Lasting) Effects on Housing Satisfaction?," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 18(5), pages 1359-1375, October.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Happiness; subjective well-being; genetics;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • Z00 - Other Special Topics - - General - - - General

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