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Economist Justin Wolfers dives through the data and finds who’s really happy

Here's a condensed version of tomorrow's story, about the visit by economist Justin Wolfers to Gonzaga University's econ symposium.

Rich people are happier than poor people, not just according to popular opinion. Wolfers has spent the past several years examining studies that support that claim, plus dozens of other measures that try to explain why some groups of people are happier than others.

Wolfers, 41, is one of the web’s best-known economists. Born in Australia, he’s now a U.S. citizen and has earned respect for his ability to summarize economic issues and relate them to everyday concerns.

Some of his takes:

  • Men in recent decades in America are happier than women. “No one knows exactly why,” Wolfers said. It may be that women have internalized several measures of success, more than the basic “am I popular” focus young women faced growing up in the 1960s, he said.
  • Young people are happier than middle-aged people, at least in most countries. The reason: raising a family and going through career advancement make life harder, he said.
  • Older people are generally happier than middle-aged people. That’s the flip side of the previous question; as people reach retirement they can start relaxing after raising children or concluding career goals.
  • In general not only are the rich happier than the poor, but globally, richer nations are happier than poorer one, Wolfers noted.
  • People who are married are happier than those who aren’t. But there’s some uncertainty why, Wolfers said.

“It could be that people who are generally happy to start with are those who get married more often,” he said.

 

 


 Wolfers currently is an economics professor at the University of Michigan, and is a commentator for National Public Radio and the Freakonomics blog. He is also a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution

 Asked after the lecture why he pursues the dimensions of happiness, Wolfers said he has an inherent instinct to look at economic factors, and try to find connections to real life.

“I love knowing every day that I’m going to do economics,” he said.

 “And economics can be part of the public policy debate. That’s why I became an economist. I don’t want to be grandiose, but we all want to make the world a better place,” he said.


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