Happiness Inequality in the United States

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers

in Law and Happiness

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780226676005
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226676029 | DOI:
Happiness Inequality in the United States

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This chapter examines how the level and dispersion of self-reported happiness has evolved over the period 1972–2006. While there is no increase in aggregate happiness, inequality in happiness has fallen substantially since the 1970s. There are large changes in the level of happiness across groups: two-thirds of the black-white happiness gap has been eroded, and the gender happiness gap has disappeared entirely. Paralleling changes in income distribution, differences in happiness by education have widened substantially. An integrated approach is developed for measuring inequality and decomposing changes in the distribution of happiness, finding a pervasive decline in within-group inequality during the 1970s and 1980s that was experienced by even narrowly defined demographic groups. Around one-third of this decline has subsequently been unwound. Juxtaposing these changes with large increases in income inequality suggests an important role for nonpecuniary factors in shaping the well-being distribution.

Keywords: happiness; happiness inequality; United States; well-being distribution; black-white happiness gap; gender happiness gap; income distribution

Chapter.  13291 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economics

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