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Education, income, and the distribution of happiness

Owen, Ann and Phillips, Anne (2013): Education, income, and the distribution of happiness.

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Abstract

We study happiness inequality in the United States using data from the 2005 to 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). We aggregate individual level data to the state level and study how the average life satisfaction of various income, education, and life satisfaction groups changes with the average life satisfaction of the state. We find that the life satisfaction of the least happy does not increase in equal proportion with the average happiness of society, suggesting that increasing happiness levels are likely to lead to greater happiness inequality. However, the life satisfaction of the poorest and least educated does increase in equal proportions with average life satisfaction. Taken together, these results indicate that directed policies aimed at increasing the income of the poor or education levels of the least educated could result in less inequality in the distribution of welfare.

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