Happiness Inequality in the United States

43 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2008

See all articles by Betsey Stevenson

Betsey Stevenson

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Justin Wolfers

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; The University of Sydney - Discipline of Economics; Brookings Institution - Economic Studies Program; Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); Kiel Institute for the World Economy

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Date Written: August 2008

Abstract

This paper examines how the level and dispersion of self-reported happiness has evolved over the period 1972-2006. While there has been no increase in aggregate happiness, inequality in happiness has fallen substantially since the 1970s. There have been large changes in the level of happiness across groups: Two-thirds of the black-white happiness gap has been eroded, and the gender happiness gap has disappeared entirely. Paralleling changes in the income distribution, differences in happiness by education have widened substantially. We develop an integrated approach to measuring inequality and decomposing changes in the distribution of happiness, finding a pervasive decline in within-group inequality during the 1970s and 1980s that was experienced by even narrowly-defined demographic groups. Around one-third of this decline has subsequently been unwound. Juxtaposing these changes with large rises in income inequality suggests an important role for non-pecuniary factors in shaping the well-being distribution.

Keywords: happiness, inequality, subjective well-being

JEL Classification: D3, D63, I3, J1

Suggested Citation

Stevenson, Betsey and Wolfers, Justin, Happiness Inequality in the United States (August 2008). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP6929, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1307519

Betsey Stevenson

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

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Justin Wolfers (Contact Author)

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