Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?

37 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2001  

Alberto F. Alesina

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Rafael Di Tella

Harvard Business School - Business, Government and the International Economy Unit; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Robert MacCulloch

Imperial College London - Tanaka Business School

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 2002

Abstract

We study the effect of the level of inequality in society on individual well being using a total of 123,668 answers to a survey question about ?happiness?. We find that individuals have a lower tendency to report themselves happy when inequality is high, even after controlling for individual income, a large set of personal characteristics, and year and country (or, in the case of the US, state) dummies. The effect, however, appears to be stronger in Europe than in the US. In addition we find a striking difference across groups. In Europe, the poor and those on the left of the political spectrum are unhappy about inequality; whereas in the US the happiness of the poor and of those on the left is uncorrelated with inequality. Interestingly, in the US it is the rich who are especially bothered by inequality. We argue that these findings are consistent with the perception (not necessarily the reality) that Americans have of living in a mobile society, where individual effort can move people up and down the income ladder, while Europeans believe that they live in less mobile societies.

Suggested Citation

Alesina, Alberto F. and Di Tella, Rafael and MacCulloch, Robert, Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different? (June 2002). Harvard Institute of Economic Research Paper No. 1938. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=293781 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.293781

Alberto F. Alesina (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Rafael Di Tella

Harvard Business School - Business, Government and the International Economy Unit ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.people.hbs.edu/rditella/

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Robert MacCulloch

Imperial College London - Tanaka Business School ( email )

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United Kingdom

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