Happiness and Marriage

Last week's podcast was "Why Marry, Part 1"; Part 2 will be released tomorrow (well, we usually release new episodes around midnight, so depending on where you live, Part 2 may be released today.) In Part 1, Justin Wolfers explained how marriage has shifted from a model of “production complementarities” to a model of hedonic marriage. Psychology professor Eli J. Finkel writes in The New York Times that we're also in an age of "all-or-nothing" marriages -- where expectations of happiness in marriage are high:

Consider, for example, that while the divorce rate has settled since the early 1980s at around 45 percent, even those marriages that have remained intact have generally become less satisfying. At the same time, consider the findings of a recent analysis, led by the University of Missouri researcher Christine M. Proulx, of 14 longitudinal studies between 1979 and 2002 that concerned marital quality and personal well-being. In addition to showing that marital quality uniformly predicts better personal well-being (unsurprisingly, happier marriages make happier people), the analysis revealed that this effect has become much stronger over time. The gap between the benefits of good and mediocre marriages has increased.

Religion, Labor Supply, and Happiness

SuperFreakonomics looked at research by Douglas Almond and Bhashkar Mazumder on the birth effects of prenatal exposure to Ramadan. A new paper by Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott looks at the economic effects of religious practices, a particularly relevant question this month:

We study the economic effects of religious practices in the context of the observance of Ramadan fasting, one of the central tenets of Islam. To establish causality, we exploit variation in the length of the fasting period due to the rotating Islamic calendar. We report two key, quantitatively meaningful results: 1) longer Ramadan  fasting has a negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries, and 2) it increases subjective well-being among Muslims.

Does Living With Children Make the Elderly Miserable?

A new working paper (gated) by Angus Deaton and Arthur A. Stone is called "Grandpa and the Snapper: the Wellbeing of the Elderly who Live with Children":

Elderly Americans who live with people under age 18 have lower life evaluations than those who do not.  They also experience worse emotional outcomes, including less happiness and enjoyment, and more stress, worry, and anger.  In part, these negative outcomes come from selection into living with a child, especially selection on poor health, which is associated with worse outcomes irrespective of living conditions.  Yet even with controls, the elderly who live with children do worse.  This is in sharp contrast to younger adults who live with children, likely their own, whose life evaluation is no different in the presence of the child once background conditions are controlled for.  Parents, like elders, have enhanced negative emotions in the presence of a child, but unlike elders, also have enhanced positive emotions.  In parts of the world where fertility rates are higher, the elderly do not appear to have lower life evaluations when they live with children; such living arrangements are more usual, and the selection into them is less negative.  They also share with younger adults the enhanced positive and negative emotions that come with children.  The misery of the elderly living with children is one of the prices of the demographic transition.

The Latest in Happiness Research

In the L.A. Times, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton highlight some of the more interesting recent findings in the field of happiness research.  Two surprising examples from the article:

1. "A study of women in the United States found that homeowners were no happier than renters, on average. And even if you're currently living in a cramped basement suite, you may find that moving to a nicer home has surprisingly little impact on your overall happiness. Researchers followed thousands of people in Germany who moved to a new home because there was something they didn't like about their old home. In the five years after relocating, the residents reported a significant increase in satisfaction with their housing, but their overall satisfaction with their lives didn't budge."
2. "[D]ozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things. Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are. And while it's anyone's guess where the American housing market is headed, the value of experiences tends to grow over time, becoming rosier in the rearview mirror of memory."

You Really Are What You Eat

In a new working paper (PDF; abstract), economists David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, and Sarah Stewart-Brown argue that you actually are what you eat:

Humans run on a fuel called food.  Yet economists and other social scientists rarely study what people eat.  We provide simple evidence consistent with the existence of a link between the consumption of fruit and vegetables and high well-being.  In cross-sectional data, happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The pattern is remarkably robust to adjustment for a large number of other demographic, social and economic variables.  Well-being peaks at approximately 7 portions per day.  We document this relationship in three data sets, covering approximately 80,000 randomly selected British individuals, and for seven measures of well-being (life satisfaction, WEMWBS mental well-being, GHQ mental disorders, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and feeling low).

One major note: the researchers caution that reverse causality may be an issue. That is, rather than fruit and vegetables causing well-being, it may be that well-adjusted people prefer eating a lot of fruit and vegetables. The authors recommend additional "randomized trials to explore the consequences for mental health of different levels of fruit-and-vegetable consumption."

The Dilbert Index? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called "The Dilbert Index?" (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.) It's about workplace morale and the measurement thereof.

This segment was largely crowd-sourced from Freakonomics blog readers -- so: thanks! It began with a blog post in which a reader named Tim Wadlow asserted that the direction you park in your company lot may say something about company morale. We then opened up the blog to further observations on company morale. One of the most interesting: the "Dilbert Index," as described by a reader named Damon Beaven:

BEAVEN: I look for the number of Dilbert comics and that seems to be inversely proportional to the level of morale. A lot of Dilbert comics seems to be like a passive aggressive way of an employee complaining.

We also take a step back and ask the basic questions like: How much does company morale matter to a company's bottom line? What's the best way to measure morale? And, in the realm of unintended consequences, what happens when a company tries to cut down on sick days?

Question of the Day: Any Good Stories About Workplace Morale?

We're working on a new podcast episode about morale in the workplace, and need your help. The episode was inspired a recent blog post in which a reader posited an interesting theory: morale is higher at companies where a lot of employees park nose-in (indicating they're eager to get to work) rather than nose-out (indicating they can't wait to get home).

My request here is two-fold:

1. We've started poking into the academic literature on company morale but haven't gotten very far, so please let us know any good leads.

2. We're also interested in hearing stories about morale at your workplace, be it high or low, and especially any clever/strange indicators of morale and unusual methods that have been used to measure morale.

Thanks in advance!

Can Parking Direction Tell Us Anything About Company Morale?

A reader named Tim Wadlow writes in with an interesting theory:

I spent about 10 years as a operations management consultant, working with dirty, dull, and dangerous manufacturing companies.

After spending time at roughly 100 manufacturing locations around the world, I noticed an odd trend: the direction that employees parked in their parking spots highly correlated with employee morale and satisfaction with their jobs. Most of the cars parked forward? A good company to work for, with employees who want to get to work. Most cars backwards? It seems as though the moment that the employee got to work, he or she was planning a quick exit.

Next time you drive by a manufacturing company check it out.

Maybe CEO's should study Google Earth maps of their parking lots to determine if they are changing a companies culture?

The Liberation of Use-Them-Or-Lose-Them Frequent Flyer Miles

This year, Daniel Kahneman has me wondering about what is the best way to organize my vacation time. In this great TED talk – The Riddle of Experience versus Memory, he talks about the tradeoffs we must make in increasing our moment-to-moment experience of happiness versus increasing our memories of happiness.

If you want to maximize your memories of happiness, you should spend more time taking pictures of your vacation and jam more events into each day. If you want to maximize your moment-to-moment experience of happiness, you spend less time recording your experience and more time experiencing them directly.

More Evidence of Blue Monday Effect?

A new study by two economists from the University of British Columbia, John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang, shows that Americans are happier on weekends. This is more true for men than for women, as well as for married couples.

Abstract here:

This paper exploits the richness and large sample size of the Gallup/Healthways US daily poll to illustrate significant differences in the dynamics of two key measures of subjective well-being: emotions and life evaluations. We find that there is no day-of-week effect for life evaluations, represented here by the Cantril Ladder, but significantly more happiness, enjoyment, and laughter, and significantly less worry, sadness, and anger on weekends (including public holidays) than on weekdays. We then find strong evidence of the importance of the social context, both at work and at home, in explaining the size and likely determinants of the weekend effects for emotions. Weekend effects are twice as large for full-time paid workers as for the rest of the population, and are much smaller for those whose work supervisor is considered a partner rather than a boss and who report trustable and open work environments. A large portion of the weekend effects is explained by differences in the amount of time spent with friends or family between weekends and weekdays (7.1 vs. 5.4 hours). The extra daily social time of 1.7 hours in weekends raises average happiness by about 2%.