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?


Rwanda is near the top of the "love table"?

Yes, that explains why so many lonely people are going on holiday in Rwanda - hoping to find love.

Amazing that the question wasn't asked in the US - a shame.


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...

Kevin H

The obvious question is: does love cause wealth, is wealth permissive for love, or are the both controlled by some third factor? Decent evidence for the second hypothesis is the well known fact that a large % of divorces occur after personal financial problems. A good study might be a longitudinal study seeing if there is a upswing in 'loveiness' in a country after a boom, or if a wave of love hits before the economic growth. I'm assuming you have some opinion on the three competing ideas? any sneak peek on that?


As a reference to Jordan's (#12) comments about the axis being mislabeled in a way that indicates only 0.7% of people feel love:

I must be really disillusioned about love, because I had no trouble believing the number would be that small.


It is fitting that Cyprus is in the top right hand corner of the graph. That's where Venus (formerly Aphrodite) comes from.


In response to Matt (#22), the error is clearly a typo because it is contradicted in the text of the blog:
"And, encouragingly, about 70 percent of us report feeling a lot of love on any given day."

Or at least one of the two references is a typo, although I can't be sure which. I hope it is the graph label which is mistaken! (I also hoped that 5 days later, this error would be corrected by now, which is it not).