Happiness inequality in the United States
Betsey Stevenson, Justin Wolfers, 4 August 2008
Surveys that have attempted to measure the level of happiness in US citizens by means of a subjective response have unveiled decreases in happiness inequality. These findings come in spite of the long-term trend of increasing income inequality.
The authors of CEPR DP6929 have used these responses to analyse the level and dispersion of happiness within and between demographic groups over the period of 1972-2006. In particular, they look at changes in the racial, gender and education gaps.
Whilst they find that overall levels of happiness have remained relatively stable with a slight, but statistically significant decline, the distribution of happiness between and within demographic groups has changed significantly. The black-white gap was found to have narrowed substantially and the gender gap to have almost disappeared. In addition, the education gap was found to have widened.
In light of increasing income inequality, the authors suggest that these findings may reveal a possible decrease in inequality in the non-pecuniary domain. In particular they highlight changes in the US legal and institutional framework that occurred during the observed time period that may help to explain the changes.
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