New Article: Comparing Life Satisfaction between the U.S. and the Netherlands

From SSRN Comparing Life Satisfaction, written 3 Rand Corporation researchers (H/T Legal Theory Blog):

This paper analyzes the determinants of global life satisfaction in two countries (The Netherlands and the U.S.), by using both self-reports and responses to a battery of vignette questions. The authors find global life satisfaction of happiness is well-described by four domains: job or daily activities, social contacts and family, health, and income. Among the four domains, social contacts and family have the highest impact on global life satisfaction, followed by job and daily activities and health. Income has the lowest impact.

As in other work, they find that American response styles differ from the Dutch in that Americans are more likely to use the extremes of the scale (either very satisfied or very dissatisfied) than the Dutch, who are more inclined to stay in the middle of the scale. Although for both Americans and the Dutch, income is the least important determinant of global life satisfaction, it is more important in the U.S. than in The Netherlands. Indeed life satisfaction varies substantially more with income in the U.S. than in The Netherlands.

There are some intriguing differences between the way respondents judge vignette persons and what turns out to influence their own satisfaction. Respondents in both The Netherlands and the U.S. appear to think that marriage does not contribute to life satisfaction when they judge vignettes. Yet their own satisfaction is positively influenced by being married. Similarly, respondents believe that other things being equal, older persons should be less
satisfied. Yet their own satisfaction goes up with age.

Proponents of Western European Socialist states frequently cite the high life satisfaction of serfs, err citizens of these countries as a benefit of socialism over capitalism. Unfortunately, this report did not inquire into the how governmental control of the individual impacts happiness. But I would definitely be curious about how the state decreases people’s incentives to work harder and produce more. While people may be happy with indolence supported by a welfare state, how will this affect the metal state of mankind in the longterm. Just a thought.

3 Responses to “New Article: Comparing Life Satisfaction between the U.S. and the Netherlands”

  1. mickey Says:

    happiness is can be a clean drink of water, depends on your expectations, and the expectations in the Netherlands are very low, by contrast, the expectations are very high in the US, always striving to do better, that’s what made this country so great.
    If you’re happy living in a closet sized government subsidized apartment and riding a bike to work in inclement weather past brothels and smoke shops to a gimme job where you lose half your paycheck to the state, more power to ya, I want more.

  2. mickey Says:

    btw, first timer, from the link at glenn reynolds place, nice blog, any friend of John Galts is a friend of mine, I’ll be back.

  3. Don Incognito Says:


    Thanks again for another of many interesting posts. You earlier made another post about the incentives that taxation provided for you to go into academia, and I believe these two topics are inseparable.

    The synopsis you quote provides some fascinating insights into what makes people happy. Most notable is the fact that social contacts are on top, while income is at the bottom. Myself, I believe that the goal of government should be the maximization of the happiness of society. The implication, therefore, is that a limitation on income—via taxation and regulation—will decrease societal happiness less than dissatisfaction with one’s job or health, which may be a result of insufficient social supports for individuals.

    For Objectivists, it seems, the goal is the maximization of income individuals within the society. Your argument further states that government welfare decreases people to work harder and worries about the state of society.

    Of course, the argument has merit. But I will recall your earlier post that government taxation (and not necessarily welfare) incentivized you to go into academia over a large firm job. Now, would the “mental state of mankind” and collective human knowledge of be improved by your working for a large private firm, or by your pursuit of what you truly love (constitutional law and academia)? I would confidently bet on the latter.

    P.S. I still have a couple of things to reply to/comment on on your Facebook and on this blog. Since some require research, I doubt I’ll be able to do that before I complete a paper for class, due next Wednesday. I hope I will have the time then. I just felt I had to comment on this post. Hope you and Chana are doing well 🙂

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