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What Are We Learning From The Life Satisfaction Literature?

L. Becchetti, A. Pelloni
Published 2011 · Economics

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The recent availability of cross-sectional and longitudinal survey data on life satisfaction in a large number of countries gives us the opportunity to verify empirically (and not just to assume) what matters for individuals and what economists and policymakers should take into account when trying to promote personal and societal well-being. We now have ample evidence, generally robust to different cultural backgrounds, on the effects of some important happiness drivers (income, health, unemployment, marital status, etc.) which can be considered “quasi-stylized facts” of happiness. If economic policies, for many obvious reasons, cannot maximize self-declared life satisfaction as such, we are nonetheless learning a lot from these findings. In particular, results on the relevance of relational goods, on the inflation/unemployment trade-off in terms of welfare and, more in general, on the measurement of the shadow value of non-market goods obtained with life satisfaction estimates are conveying relevant information about individual preferences and what is behind utility functions. Such findings suggest that the anthropological reductionism characterizing most economic models can be misleading and that target indicators of economic policies have to be refocused if we want to minimize the distance between economic development and human progress.
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