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Discover Data: The Cost of Contentment

By Paroma BasuJune 1, 2003 5:00 AM


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Happiness comes with a hefty price tag, say economists Andrew Oswald and Andrew Clark of Warwick University in England. It takes roughly $210,000 a year to soothe hearts after a separation, while marital bliss is equivalent to an annual income of $110,000. Health is our most precious source of satisfaction: Major illness is equivalent to a loss of about $770,000 a year. The researchers formulated a "macroeconomics of happiness" by analyzing various surveys, mostly employee self-assessments collected from a million workers in 20 developed nations since the 1970s. After adjusting for age, gender, education level, marital status, and income, Oswald and Clark tabulated happiness patterns based on the assumption that a person's well-being is a balance between economic and personal factors. One unexpected finding is that children have little measurable effect on happiness, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. Related studies in developing countries are also yielding some surprises. A poor, black South African surviving on $200 a year is, on average, as happy as an upper-middle-class American earning $70,000. Oswald says his research could guide juries when awarding damages and help policymakers plan social services.


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