kitchen table math, the sequel: news flash: happiness inequality down

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

news flash: happiness inequality down

from the TIMES:
Despite the fact that income inequality — the chasm between rich and poor — has grown to levels rarely seen outside the third world, happiness inequality in the United States seems to have declined sharply over the past 35 years. And that is not because everyone is just that much more cheerful.

According to new research by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the happiness gap between blacks and whites has fallen by two-thirds since the early 1970s. The gender gap (women used to be happier than men) has disappeared. Most significant, the disparity in happiness within demographic groups has also shrunk: the unhappiest 25 percent of the population has gotten a lot happier. The happiest quarter is less cheerful.

It seems odd that happiness would become more egalitarian over a period in which the share of the nation’s income sucked in by the richest 1 percent of Americans rose from 7 percent to 17 percent. In fact, the report does find a growing happiness gap between Americans with higher levels of education and those with less, which is roughly in line with the widening pay gap between the skilled and unskilled.

from the author of the paper:
Two trends are pretty clear. First, average happiness is roughly unchanged since the 1970’s. And second, happiness inequality — measured here as the variance of happiness — fell pretty dramatically from 1972 until the late 1980’s; this compression has since stalled, and about one third of the total decline has subsequently been reversed.


The good news is that the unhappy end of the distribution has become somewhat happier; the bad news is that the happy end has become less happy.

Apparently women either are or are not getting less happy as a group. Who can say?

Off the top of my head, I'm going to guess that it was more fun being rich when you could live off your interest as opposed to the 100 hours of billable time the working rich have to put in these days. When I say "have to," I mean have to, at least in the case of rich attorneys; apparently judges don't give a lot of incompletes.

NBER digest of the shorter hours paper available here.

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The Race Between Education and Technology book review
The Race Between Ed & Tech: excerpt & TOC & SAT scores & public loss of confidence in the schools
The Race Between Ed & Tech: the Great Compression
the Great Compression, part 2
ED in '08: America's schools
comments on Knowledge Schools
the future
the stick kids from mud island
educated workers and technology diffusion
declining value of college degree
Goldin, Katz and fans
best article thus far: Chronicle of Higher Education on The Race
Tyler Cowan on The Race (NY Times)
happiness inequality down...
an example of lagging technology diffusion in the U.S.

the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
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Independent George said...

Personally, I've always been skeptical of happiness research; much of it assumes both high levels of self-awareness, and an objectively measurable scale of happiness which can be compared between populations.

Catherine Johnson said...

I hate to say it, but I think I used to have a worked-out opinion on this, which I have now forgotten.


(I wrote an article for Scientific American Mind that at least touched on the subject...)

I've always liked the journal studies of the FLOW guy (too lazy to look up the spelling of his name at the moment....)

And I guess off the top of my head I'd say that people's self-reports are interesting in and of themselves.

(Did you see that the Easterlin Paradox has apparently been overturned? That's quite interesting to me.)

Arnold Kling likes a book on this subject...will find the title...

Here it is:

Happiness by Bruno Frey