IZA DP No. 4695: Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-being: Evidence from the USA
published in: Science, 2010, 327 (5965), 576-579
A huge research literature, across the behavioral and social sciences, uses information on individuals' subjective well-being. These are responses to questions – asked by survey interviewers or medical personnel – such as "how happy do you feel on a scale from 1 to 4?" Yet there is little scientific evidence that such data are meaningful. This study examines a 2005-2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System random sample of 1.3 million United States citizens. Life-satisfaction in each U.S. state is measured. Across America, people's answers trace out the same pattern of quality of life as previously estimated, using solely non-subjective data, in a literature from economics (so-called 'compensating differentials' neoclassical theory due originally to Adam Smith). There is a state-by-state match (r = 0.6, p < 0.001) between subjective and objective well-being. This result has some potential to help to unify disciplines.