The Sad Truth About Happiness Scales

28 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2014 Last revised: 4 Jan 2021

See all articles by Timothy Bond

Timothy Bond

Purdue University - Department of Economics

Kevin Lang

Boston University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: March 2014

Abstract

We show that, without strong auxiliary assumptions, it is impossible to rank groups by average happiness using survey data with a few potential responses. The categories represent intervals along some continuous distribution. The implied CDFs of these distributions will (almost) always cross when estimated using large samples. Therefore some monotonic transformation of the utility function will reverse the ranking. We provide several examples and a formal proof. Whether Moving-to-Opportunity increases happiness, men have become happier relative to women, and an Easterlin paradox exists depends on whether happiness is distributed normally or log-normally. We discuss restrictions that may permit such comparisons.

Suggested Citation

Bond, Timothy and Lang, Kevin, The Sad Truth About Happiness Scales (March 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w19950, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2406752

Timothy Bond (Contact Author)

Purdue University - Department of Economics ( email )

West Lafayette, IN 47907-1310
United States

Kevin Lang

Boston University - Department of Economics ( email )

270 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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