New Article: Comparing Life Satisfaction between the U.S. and the Netherlands

October 27th, 2009

From SSRN Comparing Life Satisfaction, written 3 Rand Corporation researchers (H/T Legal Theory Blog):

This paper analyzes the determinants of global life satisfaction in two countries (The Netherlands and the U.S.), by using both self-reports and responses to a battery of vignette questions. The authors find global life satisfaction of happiness is well-described by four domains: job or daily activities, social contacts and family, health, and income. Among the four domains, social contacts and family have the highest impact on global life satisfaction, followed by job and daily activities and health. Income has the lowest impact.

As in other work, they find that American response styles differ from the Dutch in that Americans are more likely to use the extremes of the scale (either very satisfied or very dissatisfied) than the Dutch, who are more inclined to stay in the middle of the scale. Although for both Americans and the Dutch, income is the least important determinant of global life satisfaction, it is more important in the U.S. than in The Netherlands. Indeed life satisfaction varies substantially more with income in the U.S. than in The Netherlands.

There are some intriguing differences between the way respondents judge vignette persons and what turns out to influence their own satisfaction. Respondents in both The Netherlands and the U.S. appear to think that marriage does not contribute to life satisfaction when they judge vignettes. Yet their own satisfaction is positively influenced by being married. Similarly, respondents believe that other things being equal, older persons should be less
satisfied. Yet their own satisfaction goes up with age.

Proponents of Western European Socialist states frequently cite the high life satisfaction of serfs, err citizens of these countries as a benefit of socialism over capitalism. Unfortunately, this report did not inquire into the how governmental control of the individual impacts happiness. But I would definitely be curious about how the state decreases people’s incentives to work harder and produce more. While people may be happy with indolence supported by a welfare state, how will this affect the metal state of mankind in the longterm. Just a thought.