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What Do Happiness Data Mean? Theory and Survey Evidence

Daniel Benjamin, Jakina Guzman, Marc Fleurbaey, Ori Heffetz and Miles Kimball

No 28438, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

Abstract: What utility notion—e.g., flow/lifetime, self/family-centered—do self-reported well-being (SWB) questions measure? Existing applications make different assumptions regarding the (i) life domains, (ii) time horizons, and (iii) other-regarding preferences captured by SWB data. To obtain relevant evidence, we ask survey respondents what they had in mind regarding (i)–(iii) when answering commonly used—life satisfaction, happiness, ladder—and new SWB questions. We find that respondents’ self-reports differ from researchers’ assumptions, and differ across SWB questions and sociodemographic groups. At the same time, simple SWB-question wording tweaks are effective in moving self-reports towards desired interpretations. We outline actionable suggestions for SWB researchers.

JEL-codes: D69 D90 I31 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021-02
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hap and nep-ltv
Note: AG
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Citations: View citations in EconPapers (7)

Published as Daniel J Benjamin & Jakina Debnam Guzman & Marc Fleurbaey & Ori Heffetz & Miles Kimball, 2023. "What do Happiness Data Mean? Theory and Survey Evidence," Journal of the European Economic Association, vol 21(6), pages 2377-2412.

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Working Paper: What do Happiness Data Mean? Theory and Survey Evidence (2023)
Working Paper: What Do Happiness Data Mean? Theory and Survey Evidence (2021) Downloads
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