Historical Analysis of National Subjective Wellbeing Using Millions of Digitized Books

50 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2019

See all articles by Thomas Hills

Thomas Hills

University of Warwick

Eugenio Proto

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Daniel Sgroi

University of Warwick - Department of Economics

Chanuki Illushka Seresinhe

Alan Turing Institute - Alan Turing Institute

Date Written: March 2019

Abstract

In addition to improving quality of life, higher subjective wellbeing leads to fewer health problems, higher productivity, and better incomes. For these reasons subjective wellbeing has become a key focal issue among scientific researchers and governments. Yet no scientific investigator knows how happy humans were in previous centuries. Here we show that a new method based on quantitative analysis of digitized text from millions of books published over the past 200 years captures reliable trends in historical subjective wellbeing across four nations. This method uses psychological valence norms for thousands of words to compute the relative proportion of positive and negative language, indicating relative happiness during national and international wars, financial crises, and in comparison to historical trends in longevity and GDP. We validate our method using Eurobarometer survey data from the 1970s onwards and in comparison with economic, medical, and political events since 1820 and also use a set of words with stable historical meanings to support our findings. Finally we show that our results are robust to the use of diverse corpora (including text derived from newspapers) and different word norms.

Suggested Citation

Hills, Thomas and Proto, Eugenio and Sgroi, Daniel and Illushka Seresinhe, Chanuki, Historical Analysis of National Subjective Wellbeing Using Millions of Digitized Books (March 2019). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP13636. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3363549

Thomas Hills (Contact Author)

University of Warwick ( email )

Gibbet Hill Rd.
Coventry, West Midlands CV4 8UW
United Kingdom

Eugenio Proto

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute) ( email )

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Daniel Sgroi

University of Warwick - Department of Economics ( email )

Coventry CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

Chanuki Illushka Seresinhe

Alan Turing Institute - Alan Turing Institute ( email )

96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

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