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Money and Morale: Growing Inequality Affects How Americans View Themselves and Others

Publication Date:
Jan 2016
Project Programs:
The Social, Economic and Political Effects of the Affordable Care Act

Dozens of past studies document how affluent people feel somewhat better about life than middle-class people feel and much better than poor people do. New analyses of the General Social Surveys from 1974 to 2012 address questions in the literature regarding aggregate responses to hard times, whether the income-class relationship is linear or not, and whether inequality affects happiness. General happiness dropped significantly during the Great Recession, suggesting that the income-happiness relationship might also exist at the macro level. People with extremely low incomes are not as unhappy as a linear model expects, but there is no evidence of a threshold beyond which personal happiness stops increasing. Comparing happiness over the long term, the affluent were about as happy in 2012 as they were in the 1970s, but the poor were much less happy. Consequently, the gross happiness gap by income was about 30 percent bigger in 2012 than it was in the 1970s. A multivariate model shows that the net effect of income on happiness also increased significantly over time.

The Russell Sage Foundation
Journal of the Social Sciences

The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.

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