International Evidence on the Social Context of Well-Being

30 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2009 Last revised: 23 Mar 2022

See all articles by John F. Helliwell

John F. Helliwell

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Christopher Barrington-Leigh

McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy

Anthony Harris

University of Oxford - Nuffield Department of Medicine

Haifang Huang

University of Alberta - Department of Economics

Date Written: February 2009

Abstract

This paper uses the first three waves of the Gallup World Poll to investigate differences across countries, cultures and regions in the factors linked to life satisfaction, paying special attention to the social context. Our principal findings are: First, using the larger pooled sample, we find that answers to the satisfaction with life and Cantril ladder questions provide consistent views of what constitutes a good life, with an average of the two measures providing a clearer picture than either measure on its own. Second, we find strong evidence for the importance of both income and social context variables in explaining within-country and international differences in well-being. For most specifications tested, the combined effects of a few measures of the social and institutional context are as large as those of income in explaining both international and intra-national differences in life satisfaction. Third, the very significant influences of both income and social factors permit the calculation of compensating differentials for social factors. We find very large income-equivalent values for key measures of the social context. Fourth, the international similarity of the estimated equations suggests that the large international differences in average life evaluations are not due to different approaches to the meaning of a good life, but to differing social, institutional, and economic life circumstances.

Suggested Citation

Helliwell, John F. and Barrington-Leigh, Christopher and Harris, Anthony and Huang, Haifang, International Evidence on the Social Context of Well-Being (February 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w14720, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1346243

John F. Helliwell (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Christopher Barrington-Leigh

McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy

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Anthony Harris

University of Oxford - Nuffield Department of Medicine ( email )

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Haifang Huang

University of Alberta - Department of Economics ( email )

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Edmonton, AB
Canada

HOME PAGE: http://www.ualberta.ca/~haifang/index.html

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