Easterlin’s paradox or why economic growth does not make us happier

12 Aug, 2018 at 16:02 | Posted in Economics | 3 Comments

In Easterlin’s (1974) seminal paper, he finds that within any one country, in cross sectional studies, there was a strong correlation between income and happiness. One would easily conclude that money can buy happiness. However, looking at a cross section of countries, one comes to a different conclusion …

For 10 of the 14 countries surveyed, the happiness ranking is about the same, even though the income per capita changes by a factor of 30 from $140 to $2,000 …

easterlinThe finding of strong correlation between income and happiness disappears when comparisons are made across countries. Similarly, there is no correlation between happiness and income in the long run within a single country … Easterlin (2001) cites several studies which show that, despite tremendous increases in GNP per capita, the level of happiness in European and Latin American has remained virtually constant over decades.

The startling implication of these empirical findings is that the stress being placed on economic growth is entirely misplaced. Growth has no clear relation to happiness. The profession of economics, as well as policy makers all over the world are directly threatened by these findings, which suggest radical changes in how to organise economic affairs …

The implicit proposition of utility theory that the sole route to happiness is maximisation of consumption contradicts with the empirical evidence: this proposition is true only in the short run. This short run validity creates a dangerous illusion of long run validity; understanding this has dramatic policy implications. If happiness is determined by relative comparisons, then one can achieve greater happiness by reducing inequalities, and also by reducing the standards of living for everyone. This will lower the benchmark and make it easier for everyone on the planet to be happy in comparison with this benchmark.

Asad Zaman & Mehmet Karacuka


  1. I think there is a simple reason for this, the rise in income comes at the price of being moved off the land and into cities. A lot of people simply don’t want to be crmmed into cities.

  2. Say to an economist that perhaps the answer is not more economic growth (especially in rich countries) and they will think there is something seriously wrong with you. The question is simply not allowed to be asked.

  3. Yes indeed nanikore it’s regarded as little short of heresy with many moronic (british – this my area) politicians confidently talking about economic “illiteracy”.

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