Measuring Empowerment: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives

By Deepa Narayan | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Subjective Well-Being and
Objective Measures:
Insecurity and Inequality
in Emerging Markets

Carol Graham and Stefano Pettinato

Mill wrote: “Men do not desire to be rich, but to be richer
than other men.”

—Pigou, The Economics of Welfare

Many recent studies evaluating individuals’ subjective well-being—or broadly speaking, their “happiness”—suggest the need to revisit standard assumptions about the role of rational, material self-interest in determining economic behavior.1 These studies, which focus primarily on the developed economies, find little correlation between aggregate economic growth and happiness. While they find that, on average, the wealthy are happier than the poor within individual societies, they find no evidence that happiness increases as societies grow wealthier or that happiness differs between wealthier and poorer societies (above a certain absolute minimum income).2

In developed economies, people’s happiness depends far less on income than on other factors such as employment, health, marriage, and age. Similarly, happiness seems to depend strongly on macroeconomic variables other than income growth, such as unemployment, inflation, and volatility.

These findings by no means undercut the importance of economic growth as a necessary condition for achieving a wide range of fundamental societal objectives, including economic development, enhanced social welfare, and reduced poverty. Yet they do suggest that factors other than income growth

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