The Macroeconomics of Love: A Valentine’s Day Analysis

Who says there’s no romance in macroeconomics? Betsey Stevenson and I are currently working on a paper for a forthcoming Brookings Panel, assessing the relationship between levels of economic development and various measures of subjective well-being.

We are working with an absolutely fabulous data set: the Gallup World Poll. The good folks at Gallup are now surveying people in more than 130 countries every year. And they are asking all sorts of interesting questions about subjective well-being.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, let me give you a sneak peek of our findings on love and economic development.

Justin Wolfers Graph Love

It turns out that love is incredibly democratic, and is as common in poor countries as it is in rich countries. And, encouragingly, about 70 percent of us report feeling a lot of love on any given day. This isn’t as obvious as it may sound, as love’s enemy, anger, is significantly more prevalent in poor countries than in rich.

The data suggest some interesting places to look for love: the Philippines, Rwanda, and Puerto Rico top the “love tables.” Meanwhile those in Armenia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are feeling the least love. (Unfortunately, the love question wasn’t asked in the United States.)

While subjective data are relatively new to economics, I’m very excited by what we can learn, and will be sure to get back to you with more results as our research continues.

Now that we can measure something about Gross National Love, you can be sure that economists will start theorizing about it, and crunching these data to test their theories. What is your theory of love, and how might we test it in the data?

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  1. Jesse says:

    Is it possible that love and similar concepts substitute for material wealth for people who are poor or feel they deserve more than they have, as judged by previous wealth or average wealth in their respective communities? Is that why love seems to be less important in marriage for the truly rich, as least as they are shown to those of us who don’t have direct interaction with them? Is there a similarity to religion?

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  2. Joel says:

    Sounds like an interesting study. I hope a great deal of care was taken with the questions in the poll. Considering that the meaning of love can vary widely between cultures, it could be quite difficult to create questions that ensure that all responders are talking about the same thing. This would only be compounded by difficulties arising from the different languages involved. (I’m assuming that with 130 countries participating, there are many languages in use.)

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  3. Lyn LeJeune says:

    Subjective well-being = love? Love is experienced in poor countries as well as rich countries, or well, economically developed countries, but the questions were not asked in the United States.
    Wow! I wish (sarcastically, I wish!) I were head of a big corporation or the marketing guru because boy could I use this information to sell some pretty crappy stuff to convince the people who live in the countries that were “polled” that they need, let’s see, candy, highly sugary food, musci full of violence, canned baby formula….can we go on with this list? And were Americans and other developed countries not asked because most of the citizens have become satisfied along Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. Now I’m hoping that this research and information is used by responsible agencies to bring good food, water, medicine, books, and other things to countries and that well-being is well-defined and we can all get on with the business of loving because it is simply part of the human condition as is hate. Sure, when I am not hungry and sick, I can love much better, I can show that love with all that I am, but I still love. Perhaps well-being, well-defined, will help us all love better. Nix the junk sales in the global economy. Love does not = taking advantage and harming those who need the most.

    Lyn LeJeune-Rebuilding the Public Libraries of New Orleans, “All Things May Not Be Well, And All Things May Not be Well, And All Manner of Things May Not be Well,” at

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  4. ML Harris says:

    Wow. We found the patently obvious. Hate is inversely correlated with wealth. Which again begs the question of why we give hate a chance with military solutions rather than cooperation and development (and possibly wider use of marijuana).

    Here’s the real finding: build infrastructure, reduce hate. Roads in the middle east. And power plants. Light rail. Etc. These are the proper tools to wage a war on terror.

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  5. Victor says:

    In certain cultures, telling other people you feel love and things like that isn’t really the norm. In American culture, for example, it would be acceptable to say something like “This is a great party! I love you guys!” but it would be viewed as awkward in Chinese culture. So I think these subjective polls are a little misleading.

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  6. Silvanus says:

    I tend to agree to with Victor (#5). The assumption being made is that emotions measured here in the US will be synonymous with self reported emotions in other language communities. A quick tour around any anthropology department and a few questions regarding emotions in other areas of the world will relate an interesting fact; emotions are given names, and some emotional names do not have counterparts in other language communities… because the self described concept is different.

    Just as an example within Western history… in English, there is one word for “love.” In Greek, there are a variety of types of love… from agape to eros.

    I’d have to see the survey question that Gallup is using and probably talk to each of the translators on whether the question would even make sense in the individual language community that is being polled. Also, there are 193 recognized countries in the world… and about 245 entities that are either recognized or unrecognized as a country in the world. So 130? Hmm….

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  7. Guillaume ARNOULD says:

    “All you need is love”

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  8. Shan says:

    How do they define “love”? Does it have to be romantic love or can it be family love (i.e. siblings/parents)? Also, there are a wide variety of different definitions and interpretations of love in different countries…

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