Date of this Version
The Journal of Legal Studies
This paper examines how the level and dispersion of self‐reported happiness has evolved over the period 1972–2006. While there has been no increase in aggregate happiness, inequality in happiness has fallen substantially since the 1970s. There have been large changes in the level of happiness across groups: two‐thirds of the black‐white happiness gap has been eroded, and the gender happiness gap has disappeared entirely. Paralleling changes in the income distribution, differences in happiness by education have widened substantially. We develop an integrated approach to measuring inequality and decomposing changes in the distribution of happiness, finding a pervasive decline in within‐group inequality during the 1970s and 1980s that was experienced by even narrowly defined demographic groups. Around one‐third of this decline has subsequently been unwound. Juxtaposing these changes with large increases in income inequality suggests an important role for nonpecuniary factors in shaping the well‐being distribution.
happiness, happiness inequality, United States, well-being distribution, black-white happiness gap, gender happiness gap, income distribution
Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2008). Happiness Inequality in the United States. The Journal of Legal Studies, 37 (2), 533-579. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/592004
Date Posted: 27 November 2017
This document has been peer reviewed.