Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Hedonistic economics   posted by the @ 8/17/2005 12:02:00 AM

A meta-analysis finds that relative rather than absolute economic status correlates with happiness, but health and marriage are more important. From ScienceNow:

Many surveys show that richer folks tend to be happier, but the reasons for this correlation remain unclear. According to one theory, heftier incomes buy bigger homes and fancier cars, which can bring greater satisfaction. Another idea is that happiness also depends on how one's earnings rival those of same-age peers. The trouble with most surveys, however, is that they do not address confounding factors, such as a skyrocketing divorce rate, which could mask the effects of income on happiness, says Glenn Firebaugh, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

So he and Laura Tach, a sociology graduate student at Harvard University, devised a method to more clearly distinguish the real effect of money. Mining survey data from 1972 to 2002, the researchers sorted more than 20,000 working-age Americans by income and age. And by further breaking down the data, they could control for factors that influence happiness, including health, marital status, education, race, work status, and gender. Based on the number-crunching, money makes people most happy when they have more of it than their peers do, Firebaugh and Tach reported 14 August at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Philadelphia. But bigger incomes didn't cause happiness to soar as much as good health or marriage did, the analysis found.

That's an empirical finding with implications for ethics and politics. Insofar as poverty impinges on health and marriage, that would seem to confound their results. Also, basal happiness is known to be heritable.1 IQ affects health and longevity. Any indication that it affects happiness?

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1. Lykken, D. & Tellegen, A. Psychol. Sci. 7, 186−189 (1996).