The economics of happiness : a lifetime perspective

Beatton, Douglas Anthony (2011) The economics of happiness : a lifetime perspective. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The three studies in this thesis focus on happiness and age and seek to contribute to our understanding of happiness change over the lifetime. The first study contributes by offering an explanation for what was evolving to a ‘stylised fact’ in the economics literature, the U-shape of happiness in age. No U-shape is evident if one makes a visual inspection of the age happiness relationship in the German socio-economic panel data, and, it seems counter-intuitive that we just have to wait until we get old to be happy. Eliminating the very young, the very old, and the first timers from the analysis did not explain away regression results supporting the U-shape of happiness in age, but fixed effect analysis did. Analysis revealed found that reverse causality arising from time-invariant individual traits explained the U-shape of happiness in age in the German population, and the results were robust across six econometric methods. Robustness was added to the German fixed effect finding by replicating it with the Australian and the British socio-economic panel data sets. During analysis of the German data an unexpected finding emerged, an exceedingly large negative linear effect of age on happiness in fixed-effect regressions. There is a large self-reported happiness decline by those who remain in the German panel. A similar decline over time was not evident in the Australian or the British data. After testing away age, time and cohort effects, a time-in-panel effect was found. Germans who remain in the panel for longer progressively report lower levels of happiness. Because time-in-panel effects have not been included in happiness regression specifications, our estimates may be biased; perhaps some economics of the happiness studies, that used German panel data, need revisiting. The second study builds upon the fixed-effect finding of the first study and extends our view of lifetime happiness to a cohort little visited by economists, children. Initial analysis extends our view of lifetime happiness beyond adulthood and revealed a happiness decline in adolescent (15 to 23 year-old) Australians that is twice the size of the happiness decline we see in older Australians (75 to 86 yearolds), who we expect to be unhappy due to declining income, failing health and the onset of death. To resolve a difference of opinion in the literature as to whether childhood happiness decreases, increases, or remains flat in age; survey instruments and an Internet-based survey were developed and used to collect data from four hundred 9 to 14 year-old Australian children. Applying the data to a Model of Childhood Happiness revealed that the natural environment life-satisfaction domain factor did not have a significant effect on childhood happiness. However, the children’s school environment and interactions with friends life-satisfaction domain factors explained over half a steep decline in childhood happiness that is three times larger than what we see in older Australians. Adding personality to the model revealed what we expect to see with adults, extraverted children are happier, but unexpectedly, so are conscientious children. With the steep decline in the happiness of young Australians revealed and explanations offered, the third study builds on the time-invariant individual trait finding from the first study by applying the Australian panel data to an Aggregate Model of Average Happiness over the lifetime. The model’s independent variable is the stress that arises from the interaction between personality and the life event shocks that affect individuals and peers throughout their lives. Interestingly, a graphic depiction of the stress in age relationship reveals an inverse U-shape; an inverse U-shape that looks like the opposite of the U-shape of happiness in age we saw in the first study. The stress arising from life event shocks is found to explain much of the change in average happiness over a lifetime. With the policy recommendations of economists potentially invoking unexpected changes in our lives, the ensuing stress and resulting (un)happiness warrant consideration before economists make policy recommendations.

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ID Code: 50009
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Dulleck, Uwe & Bradley, Lisa
Keywords: happiness, methodology, unobservables, peers, latent variable models, age effects, cohort effects, children, school, life events, stress, lifetime happiness, life satisfaction domains, u-shape, panel data, HILDA
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Economics & Finance
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 30 Apr 2012 05:42
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2015 03:45

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