HR Strange But True!
September 10, 2004

Economists David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College and Andrew Oswald of Warwick University say they've discovered two things: 1) As a group, unmarried people are significantly less happy than married people, and 2) Money makes them feel better, as long as there's a lot of it.

Specifically, Blanchflower and Oswald calculated that unmarried people would need $100,000 in additional income each year to be happier.

The economists sought to use econometric methods to put a price tag on situations that interfere with happiness. After studying survey responses from 16,000 randomly selected U.S. residents, they concluded that (surprise!) richer people are systematically more satisfied with their lives. But they also found that marital status, gender, age, race, unemployment, sexual behavior, and whether a person's parents were divorced also play major roles in happiness.

Gail Marks Jarvis, a business columnist for the Pioneer Press newspaper of St. Paul, Minnesota, boils the research down to this: "If you are too busy to baby-sit your finances or earn a $100,000 raise, it may be easier to secure your happiness by building your marriage or finding a spouse."

She goes on to note other findings of the research:

  • Well-being is greatest among women, married people, the highly educated, and those whose parents did not divorce.

  • Well-being is very low among unemployed men, who would need an additional $60,000 a year "to overcome the pain of joblessness."

  • Happiness diminishes for people after age 40.

  • People in second marriages and black Americans are less happy, though blacks have become happier in recent decades. Nevertheless, Blanchflower and Oswald say, blacks would need an additional $30,000 a year "to compensate for being black."

And while money can buy happiness, it doesn't buy that much of it. Blanchflower notes that if happiness came from wealth, Americans should be happier now than ever before because the gross domestic product (a measure of prosperity) keeps climbing. Instead, he says, Americans have become less happy while the nation has grown richer.

Source: Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minnesota

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