Happy for How Long? How Social Capital and GDP relate to Happiness over Time

Download full paper

Please cite the paper as:
“Bartolini-Saracinno, (2013), Happy for How Long? How Social Capital and GDP relate to Happiness over Time, World Economics Association (WEA) Conferences, No. 1 2013, The political economy of economic metrics, 28th January to 14th March, 2013”



What predicts the evolution over time of subjective well-being? GDP or Social Capital? We correlate the trends of subjective well-being with the trends of Social Capital and/or GDP. We find that in the long and medium run Social Capital largely predicts the trends of subjective well-being. In the short-term this relationship weakens. GDP follows a reverse path: in the short run GDP is more positively correlated to well-being than in the medium-term, while in the long run this correlation vanishes, thus confirming the Easterlin paradox.

2 responses

  • Olaf Schilgen says:

    On Page 27 there is written:
    “As far as the long run is concerned, our findings confirm the Easterlin
    paradox: economic growth is unrelated to increasing well-being.
    Summarizing, the relationship between SWB and GDP tends to vanish as time goes by.”

    SWB (Social Well Being) (and also Happyness) is a factor which can not escape the range from “0” to “1”.
    (0 for totally not happy, 1 for totally happy.)

    GDP in the opposit is a value (money based) which is not limited to any range – the GDP is by definition not limited.
    Its range can start from “0” to “unlimited” (as long as you measure it in money value, but that is a different story).

    So therefore it seems to be difficult to get a correlation in the long run by any meanings.

    The result, a non-correlation of social well being and GDP over the long run, is by principle of both value-ranges not possible.

    Therefore the result is quite resonable – as shown.

  • Grazia Ietto-Gillies says:

    This is an interesting paper that analyses the relationship between happiness – measured by Subjective Well-Being (SWB) – and (a) Social Capital; and (b) GDP. It is well researched and argued and I wish the authors well in the publication of the paper. My comments are general to happiness studies and not just specific to this paper.
    If we take the decades since the mid 1970s we see – throughout most countries in the world and in particular the western countries – two interconnected trends, both related to the ascendency and prevalence of neoliberal policies. First, increase in inequality of income and wealth. Second, increase in insecurity of the labouring masses. The latter caused by unemployment, causalization of labour and outsourcing/offshoring of jobs. As far as I know from reading this paper and a few others on the subject, these elements do not figure in the happiness studies i.e. into the measures of Subjective Well-Being. Yet, common sense tells us that they are likely to affect peoples’ life and their feelings. Indeed, studies by Marmot (2004), (Wilkinson 2000) and Pickett and Wilkinson (2009) as well as others by the same authors, find evidence that general and mental health are affected by income distribution.
    The paper mentioned that people compare themselves to those immediately above and below themselves in social status. However, there are also inter-generational comparisons that affect both older and new generations. The people most immediately near us are our children and our parents. Given the increasing mal-distribution of income, most young people nowadays are worse off than their parents. This has a negative effect on both children – who may be unemployed, frustrated and on top of it feel failures compared to their parents – and on the parents who feel they need to – though often can’t – help their children. Can such a situation lead to happiness? Incidentally, I want to stress that I DO NOT subscribe to the theory that the problem of distribution is one of mal-distribution across generations: i. e. that the 1960s generation took it all leaving little for their children. This is nonsense: the GDP has mostly increased since the 1960s so if there is mal-distribution it is because some groups – within the same generation – took and are taking far too large a slice of the cake. The mal-distribution is intra-generational not inter-generational.
    Should’nt variables related to the two interconnected trends – changes in distribution of income and wealth and in the labour market – figure in explanations of SWB?

    Marmot, M. (2004), Status Syndrome. How your social standing directly affects your health, London: Bloomsbury

    Pickett and Wilkinson (2009), eds, Health and Inequality. Major themes in health and social welfare, London: Routledge.

    Grazia Ietto-Gillies