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Easterlin’s Paradox and the Macroeconomics of Happiness

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Presentation on theme: "Easterlin’s Paradox and the Macroeconomics of Happiness"— Presentation transcript:

1 Easterlin’s Paradox and the Macroeconomics of Happiness
Andrew Oswald Warwick and IZA I would like to acknowledge that much of this work is joint with coauthors Andrew Clark, Nick Powdthavee, David G. Blanchflower, and Steve Wu.

2 Is modern society going in a sensible direction?

3 This is an empirical question
"Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?" Richard Easterlin in Paul A. David and Melvin W. Reder, eds., Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses Abramovitz, New York: Academic Press, Inc., 1974.

4 The Man Behind the Easterlin Paradox

5 The relationship between income and well-being in Japan over 25 years


7 The macroeconomics of happiness
Countries are happier if they have low unemployment and inflation, and generous welfare benefits.

8 The macroeconomics of happiness
Countries are happier if they have low unemployment and inflation, and generous welfare benefits. ‘Fear’ depresses happiness. R. Di Tella, R. Macculloch, A.J. Oswald American Economic Review, 2001.

9 In a recession there is a widespread decline in mental well-being, we think because of the generalized insecurity.

10 In the early 70s, 33% of Americans described their lives as very happy, 52% as pretty happy, and 15% as not too happy.

11 In the early 70s, 33% of Americans described their lives as very happy, 52% as pretty happy, and 15% as not too happy. By the late 2000s, the numbers were 31%, 55%, 14%.

12 A few years ago Economists started thinking harder about all this.

13 Stiglitz Report 2009

14 The Stiglitz Commission Report
advocates a shift of emphasis from a “production-oriented” measurement system … toward broader measures of social progress.

15 “Emphasis on growth is misguided”
“Beyond GDP” “Measuring what matters”

16 Happiness is the new GDP
Smile, and the economy smiles with you. Factory workers in Macedonia.

17 Stiglitz et al: Official statistics should blend objective and subjective well-being data Recommendation 10: Measures of both objective and subjective well-being provide key information about people’s quality of life. Statistical offices should incorporate questions to capture people’s life evaluations, hedonic experiences and priorities in their own survey.

18 Are there any questions people would like to ask?

19 We are constrained by human nature: Easterlin argued: u = u(y, others’ y)

20 But is it right to believe that humans are deeply concerned with relative position?

21 It has been found that Relative-income variables show up consistently in well-being equations. Blanchflower-Oswald, Journal of Public Economics 2004 Luttmer, Quarterly Journal of Economics 2005 GDA Brown et al, Industrial Relations 2008

22 Against whom do we compare ourselves?

23 Possibilities Peer group/people like me Others in the same household Spouse/partner Myself in the past Friends Neighbours Work colleagues “Expectations”

24 Clark and Oswald (JPubEcon 1996). BHPS Data on 5000 Employees
Log income (y) (0.039) (0.050) (0.04) Log comparison income (y*) (0.062) Log NES comparison income (y**) (0.073) “Comparison Income” predicted from a Mincer Earnings equation (note: requires exclusion restrictions to avoid multicollinearity); “NES comparison income” matched in from another data set by hours of work, and thus avoids identification problems (but assumes reference group defined by hours of work).

25 From Andrew Clark’s work: Wave 3 of the European Social Survey (22 countries).

26 In the Netherlands and in Switzerland, people seem to do less comparing-against-others.


28 Other evidence for relativity effects.

29 1) This is Denmark

30 Clark and colleagues use new geo-referenced data, based on a geographical grid of size 100*100 meters (i.e square meters, or a hectare) covering the entire country. Economic Journal, 2009.

31 Some of these grid cells are uninhabited, others are only very thinly inhabited: around two-thirds of inhabited hectare cells contain under five households. Data confidentiality: Statistics Denmark aggregates to produce clusters of neighbouring hectare cells with a minimum of 150 (600) households. Contiguous Homogenous in terms of type and ownership of housing (don’t mix flats and houses).

32 Figure 1 Small neighbourhoods in the area of Taastrupgård, Høje Tåstrup Source: Damm and Schultz-Nielsen (2008).

33 Economic Satisfaction, Income and Rank within Small Neighbourhoods: Panel Results

34 People like having a rich neighbourhood…and being on top of the ‘rank’ pile.

35 Also, suicide and comparisons:

36 “Dark contrasts: The paradox of high rates of suicide in happy places” Daly et al JEBO 2011

37 The pattern also holds in Europe

38 US states in modern data

39 Suicide dropped in NY after 9-11

40 Suicide dropped in NY after 9-11
“Effect of 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA on suicide in areas surrounding the crash sites” Cynthia Claassen et al BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY, May Results: Around the World Trade Center, post-attack 180-day suicide rates dropped significantly (t=2.4, P=0.0046).

41 Overall, in humans ‘Relativity’ effects seem strong – and not just in incomes.

42 So what?

43 So what? Why might it matter to social scientists if utility depends on relative things?

44 Some results from: Easterlin, R. A. (2005). “Diminishing Marginal Utility of Income? Caveat Emptor”. Social Indicators Research. pp

45 This is of interest to us today –it deals with the case of Japan.
Japan was a poor country in the 1950s/early 1960s, but then experienced unprecedented growth.

46 Fact 1. Richer countries are happier countries.
The blue lines show the estimated relationship between income and happiness Japan Japan was in the middle of the income distribution in the early 1960s, and had a middling level of happiness

47 So what happened as Japan became richer?

48 Look at annual indices (1962=100) of life satisfaction and real GNP per capita for Japan, 1958-1987.

49 Between 1962 and 1987 Japan experienced unprecedented economic growth, with GNP per capita (in real terms)rising 3.5-fold: growing from 22 to 77 percent of the United States level in 1962 We might then imagine that Japan would follow the blue lines above: as Japan became richer, it would become happier.

50 In fact, happiness remained constant despite Japan’s remarkable growth
What “should” have happened What did happen

51 The road to nowhere? Growth in income is now not correlated with growth in happiness This is the “Easterlin paradox”

52 Average Happiness and Real GDP per Capita for Repeated Cross-sections of Americans.

53 FIGURE 1: Happiness and Real Income Per Capita in the US, 1973-2004

54 Life-satisfaction country averages

55 There is also evidence, perhaps not known to many economists, of worsening mental health through time in some countries.

56 Average GHQ Psychological Distress Levels Over Time in Britain: BHPS, 1991-2004

57 Equivalent results have been found for adults in the Netherlands, UK and Belgium.

58 Worsening GHQ levels through time
Verhaak, P.F.M., Hoeymans, N. and Westert, G.P. (2005). “Mental health in the Dutch population and in general practice: ”, British Journal of General Practice. Wauterickx, N. and P. Bracke (2005), “Unipolar depression in the Belgian population - Trends and sex differences in an eight-wave sample”, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Sacker, A. and Wiggins, R.D. (2002). “Age-period-cohort effects on inequalities in psychological distress”. Psychological Medicine.

59 Work by Francis Green, Keith Whitfield, et al.
Might this have something to do with work getting more stressful? [Yes] Work by Francis Green, Keith Whitfield, et al.

60 Proportion of High-Strain Jobs
A high-strain job is defined as having high required effort and low task discretion. It is important for well-being and health, according to the Karasek demand-control model. The definition of low discretion is “at or below median”. High required effort is defined to be those who “strongly agree” that their job requires them to work very hard. With this definition, the proportion of high strain jobs rose in this period from a small beginning, roughly 1 in 11 jobs in 1992, to approximately 1 in 6 jobs (men) and 1 in 5 jobs (women) by After 2001 the proportion of ‘high-strain jobs’ remained stable for men but for women it rose still further to encompass a quarter of jobs. A remarkably similar growth pattern is found in Sweden, with the rise of high-strain jobs being more persistent for women than for men (Wikman, 2005). It is also interesting to note the findings of Gorman and Kmec (2007), that both in the US and in the UK women’s work effort is greater than men’s, which, they argue, reflects stricter performance standards for women. Green (2008) Work Effort and Worker Well-Being in the Age of Affluence Source: Skills Survey series 60

61 What of well-being among the young?

62 Helen Sweeting et al “GHQ increases among Scottish 15 year olds 1987–2006” Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology (2008).

63 Her team assesses whether life is getting more stressful for young people.

64 It is.

65 Mental strain in young Scots

66 So there is much evidence that all this extra money we have today is not doing a lot for us.
Easterlin’s Paradox.

67 There has recently been a critique of Easterlin’s idea

68 There has recently been a critique of Easterlin’s idea
Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have argued that economic growth does buy happiness. Brookings Papers, Spring 2008

69 Their work is extremely valuable

70 Their work is extremely valuable
But ultimately I think they probably have the wrong answer. Much of their paper is concerned with cross-section patterns. In the long time-differences, which is the appropriate test, little is statistically significant in European data.

71 Another key difficulty is that we know movements in the rate of unemployment -- omitted from their regression equations -- affect mental well-being. Di Tella, MacCulloch, Oswald AER 2001

72 Moreover, Stevenson and Wolfers agree that Americans have if anything become less happy over the last 40 years.

73 Overall I would say that currently the balance of the evidence favours Easterlin rather than Stevenson-Wolfers. [though it is bad science for us ever to close our minds, so we must watch for new evidence as it accumulates]

74 There is considerable evidence:
(i) In the rich countries, happiness is running flat or declining (ii) Levels of GHQ mental-strain are rising.

75 These (uncomfortable) facts raise fundamental intellectual and policy questions for our generation and beyond.

76 Easterlin’s Paradox and the Macroeconomics of Happiness
Andrew Oswald Research site: I would like to acknowledge that much of this work is joint with coauthors Andrew Clark, Nick Powdthavee, David G. Blanchflower, and Steve Wu.

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