Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?
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)
Imperial College London - Tanaka Business School
Harvard Institute of Economic Research Paper No. 1938
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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 37
Date posted: December 14, 2001