The Socio Political Demography of Happiness

44 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2023

See all articles by Sam Peltzman

Sam Peltzman

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

Date Written: July 12, 2023


Since 1972 the General Social Survey (GSS) has asked a representative sample of US adults “… [are] you …very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Overall, the population is reasonably happy even after a mild recent decline. I focus on differences along standard socio demographic dimensions: age, race, gender, education, marital status income and geography. I also explore political and social differences. Being married is the most important differentiator with a 30-percentage point happy-unhappy gap over the unmarried. Income is also important, but Easterlin’s (1974) paradox applies: the rich are much happier than the poor at any moment, but income growth doesn’t matter. Education and racial differences are also consequential, though the black-white gap has narrowed substantially. Geographic, gender and age differences have been relatively unimportant, though old-age unhappiness may be emerging. Conservatives are distinctly happier than liberals as are people who trust others or the Federal government. All above differences survive control for other differences.

Keywords: happiness, demographics, family, Easterlin paradox, education, income, social capital, political ideology

JEL Classification: D10, D60, E01, I31, J10, J12, J18, Z13

Suggested Citation

Peltzman, Sam, The Socio Political Demography of Happiness (July 12, 2023). George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy & the State Working Paper No. 331, Available at SSRN: or

Sam Peltzman (Contact Author)

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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