nep-hap New Economics Papers
on Economics of Happiness
Issue of 2020‒12‒21
five papers chosen by

  1. How Threatening Are Transformations of Happiness Scales to Subjective Wellbeing Research? By Kaiser, Caspar F.; Vendrik, Maarten C.M.
  2. Building an Epidemiology of Happiness By John F. Helliwell; David Gyarmati; Craig Joyce; Heather Orpana
  3. Happiness and Air Pollution By Arik Levinson
  4. Theory of Consumer Behavior: An Islamic Perspective By KHAN, MUHAMMAD AKRAM
  5. How Do Mass Shootings Affect Community Wellbeing? By Aparna Soni; Erdal Tekin

  1. By: Kaiser, Caspar F. (Nuffield College, Oxford); Vendrik, Maarten C.M. (Maastricht University)
    Abstract: Two recent papers argue that many results based on ordinal reports of happiness can be reversed with suitable monotonic increasing transformations of the associated happiness scale (Bond and Lang 2019; Schröder and Yitzhaki 2017). If true, empirical research utilizing such reports is in trouble. Against this background, we make four main contributions. First, we show that reversals are fundamentally made possible by explanatory variables having heterogenous effects across the distribution of happiness. We derive a simple test of whether reversals are possible by relabelling the scores of reported happiness and deduce bounds for ratios of coefficients under any labelling scheme. Second, we argue that in cases where reversals by relabelling happiness scores are impossible, reversals using an alternative method of Bond and Lang, which is based on ordered probit regressions, are highly speculative. Third, we make apparent that in order to achieve reversals, the analyst must assume that respondents use the response scale in a strongly non-linear fashion. However, drawing from the economic and psychological literature, we present arguments and evidence which suggest that respondents likely use response scales in an approximately linear manner. Fourth, using German SOEP data, we provide additional empirical evidence on whether reversals of effects of standard demographic variables are both possible and plausible. It turns out that reversals by either relabelling or by using Bond & Lang's approach are impossible or implausible for almost all variables of interest. Although our analysis uses happiness as a special case, our theoretical considerations are applicable to any type of subjective ordinal report.
    Keywords: ordinal reports, transformations of cardinal scales, happiness, subjective wellbeing, life satisfaction, Easterlin Paradox, General Social Survey, German Socio-Economic Panel
    JEL: I31 C25
    Date: 2020–11
  2. By: John F. Helliwell; David Gyarmati; Craig Joyce; Heather Orpana
    Abstract: Starting from the assumption that improving well-being is the central consideration for public policies, we show how subjective well-being research can help, and already is helping, to choose public policies based on their consequences for all aspects of life. The core of the paper lies in examples where the methods we propose, often in systematic experimental contexts, have already been used to guide the evaluation and ranking of alternative policy options in public health, education, workplace training, and social welfare. The arrival of COVID-19 has increased the urgency for a well-being focus, since the policy decisions being faced by governments dealing with the pandemic require an approach much broader than provided by more typical policy evaluations in all disciplines, including especially the social context and the distribution of costs and consequences. A broader approach to policy design and choice is fully consistent with the underlying aims of epidemiology, with similar gains likely in other policy disciplines. A focus on subjective well-being as an umbrella measure of welfare might help to restore to economics the breadth of purpose and methods it had two centuries ago, when happiness was considered the appropriate goal for private actions and public policies.
    JEL: H12 H51 I14 I18 I31
    Date: 2020–11
  3. By: Arik Levinson (Department of Economics, Georgetown University)
    Abstract: I pose three questions: Does pollution make people unhappy? How much? And is the effect proportional to pollution’s estimated effects on mortality and productivity? Answers to those three questions must overcome three obstacles: unobserved characteristics of locales correlated with both pollution and happiness; selection by pollution-averse individuals to less polluted areas; and habituation by residents to local circumstances. Since 2010, when the initial few studies relating happiness to pollution were last surveyed, thirty more have been published. I discuss how the new studies tackle each of those three problems and I devise a method of comparing their findings despite their different measures of both happiness and pollution. I combine the happiness and income coefficients from each study into a willingness-to-pay measure, for a one-day, one-standard-deviation pollution reduction. Finally, I document a surprising concordance between those calculated willingness-to-pay measures and new research assessing the effects of pollution on mortality and productivity
    Keywords: Stated well-being, willingness-to-pay, habituation, short-termism
    JEL: Q51 Q53 H41
    Abstract: The paper supplements the theory of consumer behavior with insights from the primary sources of Islam. A consumer who maximizes utility operates within four dimensions: moderation, extravagance, waste, and niggardliness. These dimensions take different meanings in each social stratum. A complicating factor is the context of consumption which could be individual, social, or public. For each social stratum and for each context, these dimensions have different meanings. The paper suggests using the methodology of behavioral economics for defining the dimensions of consumption. It elaborates the concept of marginal propensity to consume into four propensities: marginal propensity to moderation, extravagance, waste, and niggardliness. That necessitates re-defining the law of demand, leading to four curves instead of the one usually found in the economics textbooks. The last part of the paper relates consumer behavior with material well-being and happiness and concludes that moderation leads to the highest levels of happiness as compared to other dimensions of the consumer behavior.
    Keywords: Consumer behavior; extravagance; waste; moderation; law of demand; material well-being and happiness
    JEL: E21
    Date: 2020–11–11
  5. By: Aparna Soni; Erdal Tekin
    Abstract: Over the past four decades, more than 2,300 people have been the victims of mass shootings involving a firearm in the United States. Research shows that mass shootings have significant detrimental effects on the direct victims and their families. However, relatively little is known about the extent to which the impacts of these tragedies are transmitted into communities where they occur, and how they influence people beyond those directly affected. This study uses nationally representative data from the Gallup-Healthways survey to assess the spillover effects of mass shootings on community wellbeing and emotional health outcomes that capture community satisfaction, sense of safety, and levels of stress and worry. We leverage differences in the timing of mass shooting events across counties between 2008 and 2017. We find that mass shootings reduce both community wellbeing and emotional health. According to our results, a mass shooting is associated with a 27 percentage point decline in the likelihood of having excellent community wellbeing and a 13 percentage point decline in the likelihood of having excellent emotional health four weeks following the incident. The effects are stronger and longer lasting among individuals exposed to deadlier mass shootings. Furthermore, the reductions in wellbeing are greater for parents with children below age 18. Our findings suggest that mass shootings have significant societal costs and create negative spillover effects that extend beyond those immediately exposed.
    JEL: I1 I12 I18 I31 K4
    Date: 2020–11

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