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What Do Happiness Data Mean? Theory and Survey Evidence

Daniel Benjamin, Jakina Guzman, Marc Fleurbaey (), Ori Heffetz () and Miles Kimball
Additional contact information
Marc Fleurbaey: Paris School of Economics
Ori Heffetz: Cornell University / The Hebrew University of Jerusalem / NBER

No GRU_2021_002, GRU Working Paper Series from City University of Hong Kong, Department of Economics and Finance, Global Research Unit

Abstract: What utility notion do self-reported well-being (SWB) questions measure? We clarify the assumptions that underlie existing applications regarding the (i) life domains, (ii) time horizons, and (iii) other-regarding preferences captured by SWB data. We ask survey respondents what they had in mind regarding (i)–(iii) when answering commonly used—life satisfaction, happiness, ladder—and new SWB questions. Respondents put most weight on the present and on themselves—but not enough to interpret SWB data as measuring notions of flow utility and self-centered utility. We find differences across SWB questions and across sociodemographic groups. We outline actionable suggestions for SWB researchers.

Keywords: happiness; life satisfaction; subjective well-being; survey questions (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D69 D90 I31 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 49 pages
Date: 2021-02-01
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hap, nep-ltv and nep-upt
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