Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Billionaires, millionaires, inequality, and happiness

Popov, Vladimir (2019): Billionaires, millionaires, inequality, and happiness.

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The relationship between inequality and happiness is counterintuitive. This applies to both inequality in income and wealth distribution overall and also inequality at the very top of the wealth pyramid, as measured by billionaire intensity (the ratio of billionaire wealth to GDP). First, billionaire intensity appears to be higher in countries with low, not high, levels of income inequality. Second, happiness indices are higher in countries with high percentages of billionaire and millionaire wealth as a proportion of GDP, but with low levels of income inequality.

This paper uses databases from the Forbes billionaires list, the Global Wealth Report (GWR), and the World Happiness Report, as well as from the World Database on Happiness. Using these datasets, I examine the relationship between income inequality and happiness for over 200 countries from 2000 to 2018.

It turns out that in relatively poor countries – below $20,000-$30,000 per capita income – inequality raises happiness rather than lowers it, but inequality has a negative impact on happiness in rich countries. A certain degree of inequality of wealth and income distribution has a positive impact on happiness feelings, especially in countries with low levels of income. Furthermore, wealth inequalities, and especially the degree of concentration of wealth at the very top of the wealth pyramid, raise happiness self-evaluations even when income inequalities lower it.

Keywords: inequality in income and wealth distribution, share of billionaires’ and millionaires’ wealth in GDP, happiness indices

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