What about increasing unemployment benefits for the young?
Claudio Michelacci, Hernán Ruffo18 November 2014
Like any insurance mechanism, unemployment benefits involve a trade-off between risk sharing and moral hazard. Whereas previous studies have concluded that unemployment insurance is close to optimal in the US, this column argues that replacement rates should vary over the life cycle. Young people typically have little means to smooth consumption during a spell of unemployment, while the moral hazard problems are minor – regardless of replacement rates, the young want jobs to improve their lifetime career prospects and to build up human capital.
It is well known that workers suffer when they lose their job and experience an unemployment spell – surveys indicate a sharp decrease in happiness, and average consumption falls by around 20% upon job displacement. And much research has studied how to efficiently insure workers against the risk of unemployment. Like any other insurance mechanism, unemployment insurance involves a trade-off between the gains from providing liquidity and insurance to unemployed workers and the cost of the implicit problem of moral hazard.
Does it pay for firms to invest in their workers’ wellbeing?
Alex Bryson, John Forth, Lucy Stokes17 November 2014
It is generally agreed that firms can improve their employees’ wellbeing through improvements in job quality – but is it in their economic interests to do so? This column reports research showing that satisfied employees and higher productivity go together. Analysis of the British Workplace Employment Relations Survey finds that employee job satisfaction is positively associated with workplace financial performance, labour productivity, and the quality of output and service.
Citizens’ wellbeing is rising to the top of the political agenda in many countries. The British government, for example, recently announced a What Works Centre for Wellbeing, with initial funding of £3.5 million over three years to investigate the determinants of wellbeing and how to improve it. This follows government investments in wellbeing metrics developed and pioneered by Britain’s Office for National Statistics.
Edward Glaeser, Joshua Gottlieb, Oren Ziv15 October 2014
Governments are now measuring happiness, or subjective wellbeing, and some have begun trying to maximise it. This column discusses recent research showing that happiness is not the same thing as utility. The choices people make suggest that they have desires and objectives other than happiness. It is therefore possible to make people worse off while increasing their reported subjective wellbeing.
Recent interest in the psychology and economics of happiness has had pronounced influence on public policy. The high-profile report by Stiglitz et al. (2009) epitomises a push for policies to explicitly promote increases in survey measures of wellbeing as a major social objective. Places ranging from the country of Bhutan to the city of Somerville, Massachusetts explicitly measure happiness, or subjective wellbeing, and strive for improvements over time in such measures.
Employee satisfaction and firm value: A global perspective
Alex Edmans25 July 2014
Happy workers might well be more productive than unhappy ones, but high worker satisfaction could also be a sign that workers are overpaid or underworked. This column examines the link between worker satisfaction and future stock returns in 14 countries. In most but not all countries, employee satisfaction is associated with higher future stock returns. Abnormal returns to companies with high worker satisfaction are significantly increasing in the flexibility of their countries’ labour markets.
Is employee satisfaction good or bad for firm value? While it may seem natural that companies should do better if their workers are happier, this relationship is far from obvious. The 20th-century way of managing workers (e.g. Taylor 1911) is to view them as any other input – just as managers shouldn’t overpay for or underutilise raw materials, they shouldn’t do so with workers. High worker satisfaction may be a sign that workers are overpaid or underworked. However, the world is different nowadays.
Using happiness scales to inform policy: Strong words of caution
Timothy N. Bond, Kevin Lang04 July 2014
Self-reported measures of happiness are growing in popularity as alternatives to GDP. This column presents a novel statistical critique of the validity of comparing such measures across groups. Since monotonic transformations of individuals’ happiness levels can reverse average happiness rankings between countries, no meaningful comparison can be made without assumptions on the distribution of happiness.
Economists have long known that GDP is an imperfect measure of well-being. In addition to missing nonmarket transactions, it ignores environmental degradation, the quality of social interactions, and many other outcomes of economic interest. But at least since Easterlin (1974) some economists have gone further, and challenged the view that per capita GDP and well-being are positively related.
As a measure of economic activity, GDP is imperfect, but no more so than any single indicator of the whole economy. Yet public policy debate about the economy is often focused on GDP growth to the exclusion of other important considerations. This Vox Talk argues the case for a ‘dashboard’ of alternative indicators that, in addition to measuring economic activity, could also capture social welfare, sustainability and the benefits of innovation.
Study after study has shown that those who live with children are less satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Is there something wrong with these empirical analyses? Or is it that happiness measures are unreliable? This column argues that the results are correct but that comparisons of the wellbeing of parents and non-parents are of no help at all for people trying to decide whether to have children.
It is a commonplace that new parents are overwhelmed by a “tsunami of love” when they first meet their dependent offspring. Older children, though often a source of irritation and worry, are also a source of joy, and there are few parents who can even bear to think of a world without their children. Yet, study after study has shown that those who live with children are less satisfied with their lives than those who do not; Hansen (2012) and Stanca (2012) are recent surveys. How can this be?
Criticism of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of the health of the economy has grown in recent years, in part because of a new focus on measures of subjective well-being or ‘happiness’. This column argues that the debate needs to distinguish between the different purposes of measurement: economic activity, social welfare, and sustainability are distinct concepts and cannot be captured by a single indicator. There are good arguments for paying less attention to GDP and more to indicators of welfare and sustainability, but it would be a mistake to adjust or replace GDP.
The debate about how best to measure economic activity dates back to well before the ‘invention’ of GDP by Richard Stone and others during the Second World War (Stone 1947). The earliest attempt was William Petty’s 1665 estimate of income and expenditure in England and Wales, followed by a variety of other approaches in the 18th and 19th centuries. By the 1930s, partly in response to the demand from policymakers for a better handle on what was happening in the economy, the current approach to national income was taking shape (Coyle 2014).
The link between higher national income and higher national life satisfaction is critical to economic policymaking. This column presents new evidence that the connection is hump-shaped. There is a clear, positive relation in the poorer nations and regions, but it flattens out at around $30,000–$35,000, and then turns negative.
A commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress was created on the French government’s initiative. Since 2008, this distinguished group of social scientists has put subjective well-being into the limelight as a possible supplement to traditional measures of development such as GDP (Stiglitz et al. 2009). The British government has also shown considerable interest in developing a subjective well-being measure in recent years as an instrument for policy.
Federica Liberini, Eugenio Proto, Michela Redoano15 November 2013
Retrospective voting – voting for incumbents if one’s situation has improved under the politician’s watch – is a well-established pattern. This column shows that this pattern also applies when ‘improvement’ is measured by a subjective measure of well-being. Among the stark results discussed is the finding that newly widowed women are 10% less likely to be pro-incumbent than the control group.