Happiness and Economic Performance

If a nation's economic performance improves, how much extra happiness does that buy its citizens? Most public debate assumes -- without real evidence -- that the answer is a lot. This paper examines the question by using information on well-being in Western countries. The data are of four kinds: on reported happiness, on reported life satisfaction, on reported job satisfaction, and on the number of suicides. These reveal patterns that are not visible to the anecdotal eye. In industrialized countries, well-being appears to rise as real national income grows. But the rise is so small as to be sometimes almost undetectable. Unemployment, however, seems to be a large source of unhappiness. This suggests that governments ought to be trying to reduce the amount of joblessness in the economy. In a country that is already rich, policy aimed instead at raising economic growth may be of comparatively little value.

Issue Date:
Apr 04 1997
Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
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