The Neighborhood of Happiness
By Bryan Caplan
I’ve long maintained that raising your income only has a small positive effect on your happiness. Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter’s “Happiness of Everyday Life” (Journal of Happiness Studies, 2003) finds that your neighborhood‘s income’s effect on your happiness is highly irregular. From their experience-sampling study of American 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th-graders:
General traits of the person have rather strong relationships to happiness. The largest difference reflects the Social Class of Community (SCC) in which the teenagers live. SCC was computed on five levels of increasing affluence: Poor (mostly single-parent, unemployed), Working Class, Middle Class, Upper-Middle Class and Upper Class. Contrary to expectations, the highest level of happiness was reported by young people living in Working Class communities, then by those in Middle Class, Poor, Upper Class and finally Upper Middle Class environments. An ANOVA in which all the demographic variables (i.e. age, gender, SCC, Ethnic background) were entered showed the strongest effect for SCC (F = 8.09, p < 0.0001).
Their take on their findings:
What is surprising is the lack of positive correlation between happiness and financial affluence. That teenagers from working-class, and even impoverished backgrounds should be happier than upper-middle-class teenagers living in exclusive suburban communities is difficult to explain. It is possible that some selection bias is responsible for this result: perhaps relatively more students from lower class backgrounds who were happy volunteered and completed the ESM compared with more affluent students. But the rates of volunteering had been high in all schools, including the ones in the inner city neighborhoods, so this explanation could not account entirely for the findings. Perhaps in the affluent suburban sub-culture it is not “cool” to admit to being happy. Or perhaps material well-being is in fact an obstacle to happiness. Recent research on materialism suggests that excessive concern with consumer goods and material possessions is inversely related with positive developmental outcomes (Schmuck and Sheldon, 2001).
Not what I expected, but I’m hardly shocked. Are you?