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Genes, economics, and happiness

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

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.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 475.

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Date of creation: Dec 2010
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Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:475
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  1. von Hinke Kessler Scholder S, 2009. "Genetic Markers as Instrumental Variables: An Application to Child Fat Mass and Academic Achievement," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 09/25, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
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  6. Oswald, Andrew J. & Wu, Stephen, 2010. "Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-being: Evidence from the USA," IZA Discussion Papers 4695, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  8. Luis Rayo & Gary S. Becker, 2007. "Habits, Peers, and Happiness: An Evolutionary Perspective," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 487-491, May.
  9. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1993. "Satisfaction and Comparison Income," Economics Discussion Papers 10018, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
  10. Dolan, Paul & Peasgood, Tessa & White, Mathew, 2008. "Do we really know what makes us happy A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 94-122, February.
  11. Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 10667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Jason M. Fletcher & Steven F. Lehrer, 2009. "Using Genetic Lotteries within Families to Examine the Causal Impact of Poor Health on Academic Achievement," NBER Working Papers 15148, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger & David Schkade & Norbert Schwarz & Arthur A. Stone, 2006. "Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion," Working Papers 77, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
  14. Jonathan P. Beauchamp & David Cesarini & Magnus Johannesson & Matthijs J. H. M. van der Loos & Philipp D. Koellinger & Patrick J. F. Groenen & James H. Fowler & J. Niels Rosenquist & A. Roy Thurik & N, 2011. "Molecular Genetics and Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(4), pages 57-82, Fall.
  15. David, Cesarini & Dawes, Christopher T. & Johannesson, Magnus & Lichtenstein, Paul & Wallace, Björn, 2007. "Genetic Variation in Preferences for Giving and Risk-Taking," SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 679, Stockholm School of Economics, revised 12 Jan 2009.
  16. von Hinke, Stephanie & Davey Smith, George & Lawlor, Debbie A. & Propper, Carol & Windmeijer, Frank, 2016. "Genetic markers as instrumental variables," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 131-148.
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  19. Federico Echenique & Roland G. Fryer Jr & Alex Kaufman, 2006. "Is School Segregation Good or Bad?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 265-269, May.
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  21. Dean Karlan & Markus M. Möbius & Tanya S. Rosenblat & Adam Szeidl & Hunt Allcott, 2007. "Community Size and Network Closure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 80-85, May.
  22. Bruno S. Frey, 2008. "Happiness: A Revolution in Economics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262062771, March.
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