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Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Americans Report Being "Pretty Happy"

It looks like happiness levels are evening out across the American population. According to a new study by University of Pennsylvania economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, the gap between the happy and the unhappy—what researchers call "happiness inequality"—has become much smaller over the last few decades. "The U.S. population as a whole is not getting happier," Stevenson says. "For every unhappy person who became happier, there's someone on the other side coming down."
The researchers looked at data collected from 1972 to 2006 through the University of Chicago's General Social Survey and found that the happiness gap between white and nonwhites narrowed by two-thirds; whites are slightly less happy, and nonwhites are significantly happier. The gap between men and women narrowed, too. Men are a little happier, while women are less happy. There is one area, however—education level—where the gap continues to grow: People with a college degree are happier than they were in the early 1970s, while those without a college education have become less happy.
But overall, "Americans are becoming more similar to each other in terms of reported happiness," says Stevenson. "It's an interesting finding because other research shows increasing gaps in income, consumption, and leisure time." —Heather Wax