Happiness Inequality #2: Differences Between Groups

Yesterday I showed that happiness inequality has fallen since the 1970’s. The natural question is: Why?

To answer this, we ran an analysis that simultaneously estimated the evolution of happiness through time, by education, race, gender, age, marital status, and region. Here are a few graphs summarizing these findings.

(To think about the units on these graphs, we basically convert each person’s happiness level into a “z-score”; for instance, my happiness z-score is about 1.2, indicating that I’m 1.2 standard deviations happier than the average person.)

First, we find that the rising wage gap between college graduates and high school graduates (and high school dropouts) has been paralleled by a rising happiness gap by education:

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(The year-to-year bumps largely reflect statistical noise, as we are asking a smallish dataset to speak to a range of issues.)

Second, just as racial wage gaps have declined, so too has the racial happiness gap. In fact, the declining significance of race is quite striking:

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Turning to gender, Betsey and I have previously written about the “Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” and our finding that women are becoming less happy shows up again:

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Thus, happiness trends by race and gender point to declining happiness inequality, while the trends by education point to rising inequality. We have also analyzed trends by region, age group, and marital status, although I’ll leave you to read the full paper to see them. (Hint: Turn to Figure 6.)

How important are these trends in the overall scheme of things? That’s the topic I’ll return to in tomorrow’s post.


brew

"Americans tend to lead stressful lives, which personal economics exacerbates.

Yet, it’s all relative. As a whole, Americans aren’t as happy as many in Western Europe. Why? Some will expectations. I remember a 60 Minutes segment on this with Morley Safer. The Danes led the world in happiness and part of the explanation was that they don’t expect very much to begin with. I’m not saying Americans should lower their expectations, but we’re often disappointed if we don’t drive the fancy car, or live in biggest home, or take the greatest vacations.

http://blackpoliticalanalysis.com"

Denmark is in Northern Europe and it has about 5 million people, whereas American has 300 million. Its an absurd comparison. Do you know why American are happier than Europeans?

Our fertility rates are 2.1, while Europe is at 1.5. Our population is increasing, while Europe's is stagnant. Its culture is dying and slowly being replaced by unassimliated hostile immigrants. Furthermore, Americans score considerably higher than Europeans on just about every happiness survey.

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Erica Browne

It looks like the men were happiest when a war was being started.

sara

Its not surprising that women are becoming less happy. Yes, women now have more opportunities than they did 30 years ago. However, they are still expected to take care of the kids, the house, etc., so now if they decide to work, they have double the responsibilities and stress than they did 30 years ago.

km

All explainable by economics. College pays off more now than 30 years ago, more women in the workforce but not enjoying a higher standard of living ("The 2-Income Trap") and minorities have more money due to a lessening of discriminatory practices. Existence determines

consciousness.

le_sacre

would love to see these plots as residuals with income factored out (as well as "education level, gender, race, age, marital status and region" according to the paper). i have a suspicion that would pretty completely account for closing of race and gender gaps, no?

what also wasn't clear to me from the paper was how you accounted for the different sampling distributions from year to year (proportion of each demographic in sample, i mean). if certain happiness levels are more common, then you'd expect some regression to the mean in a group when you survey more of them.

Lauren Auverset

I find it fascinating to consider that, according to figure 6 in the full paper, the largest differences in happiness appeared to be between married / unmarried people and college grads and high school dropouts.

re: Doug in post #2

I disagree. I believe you are making an unfounded, foolish and possibly misogynistic statement when you say that "women are becoming more unhappy because they are working outside the home." If you look at the chart in Figure 6, you'll see that, on average, women's happiness here has decreased about as much as men's has, on average, increased. Rather, I choose to view this as a feminist movement of male / female equalization.

Spofford White

I am looking at the male/female graph. The females may have benefitted from policies in the 70's to get them into the workforce. The sexual revolution, the pill, and the ability to have an abortion would be major events in the 70's for women. Now this is all taken for granted, but STDs, HIV and the rat race have diminished the fun of being a woman. But, from the graph I see that they are still happier than men. White men commit suicide more than other racial groups and more than women. Where's that graph?

Ed Every

Maybe happiness isn't a state but rather a rate-of-change. That is, happiness may be inversely proportional to the rate-of-change of misery.

Dennis

I'm interested in the 1988-1990 period, when everybody had about the same happiness, in all three measures.

Chris

Perhaps men are starting to get over our ha-piness envy.

Thanks for this, it's quite an interesting topic and I can't wait for tomorrow!

JC

We should be comparing these charts to pay over the same periods (both in the absolute and disparity terms). Seems like there could be a correlation.

lenore Rapalski rapalski

Maybe happiness is accepting what you have and realizing that more is not necessarily better. What you end of with in terms of things, you will have to eventually give away and the people you gather to you, you will eventually lose. Being satisfied with what you have until you don't have it is the happiness of the moment in which you are living. Gratefulness leads to happiness.

LR

Gonzalo

I want to reapply your test in my country could you send me which are the step you take for the analysis and the characteristics of your data.

best regards

kpg44

Matt and Doug. great observations. that is all

Black Political Analysis

Americans tend to lead stressful lives, which personal economics exacerbates.

Yet, it's all relative. As a whole, Americans aren't as happy as many in Western Europe. Why? Some will expectations. I remember a 60 Minutes segment on this with Morley Safer. The Danes led the world in happiness and part of the explanation was that they don't expect very much to begin with. I'm not saying Americans should lower their expectations, but we're often disappointed if we don't drive the fancy car, or live in biggest home, or take the greatest vacations.

http://blackpoliticalanalysis.com

iampriteshdesai

The reason for this is the declining cost of entertaining electronics products like iPod etc. Previously only the rich could have access to best things in life. Now pretty much every one has/. All have PC's , internet they watch movies.

LL

After considering all the data, it may all be summed up thus: thetans.

This has the advantage of being absurdly reductive while also being impossible to refute.

Matt

Funny how in the last 20 years, the pattern for male happiness lags about a year behind female happiness.

doug

I'll say it again. Women are becoming more unhappy because they are working outside the home and are incurring all that goes with it.

Gina Marie

How can I calculate my happiness z-score? I want to know where I stand in this!!