Monogamy Is Good - and Good for You

By Francis, David R. | The Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 2005 | Go to article overview

Monogamy Is Good - and Good for You


Francis, David R., The Christian Science Monitor


Here's an unusual term: Gross National Happiness. Economists are not about to replace Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with GNH anytime soon. Yet there is a growing tendency for economists to weigh more than GDP when considering the welfare of a nation and its people.

GDP measures the total output of goods and services a nation produces. But for rich nations to focus excessively on ways to raise the level, or growth, of GDP would be "a mistake," says economist David Blanchflower. That's because "money buys some degree of happiness, but not a lot," he says.

A far bigger contributor to happiness is marriage. A spouse provides as much extra happiness as $100,000 in new income, reckons Mr. Blanchflower, an economist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

He and Andrew Oswald, an economist at Warwick University in Coventry, England, made this calculation by combing through large surveys of how people rate their own happiness. The key question: "Taken altogether, how would you say things are these days - would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?"

On hearing that $100,000 number, one jester told Blanchflower, "I love my wife a lot. But how about if I trade her in and take the money?" He then added, "Just kidding!"

For several years now, a small group of academic economists have explored what gives people the most happiness.

While growth of GDP is still regarded as vital to overcome hunger and other miseries in extremely poor countries, "industrialized countries should ... use a broader conception of well-being than the height of a pile of dollars," Blanchflower and Oswald note in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper.

Other happiness research findings:

* Nations (at least those in the West) do not grow happier as they grow richer.

* Women report higher levels of well-being than do men.

* Two of the biggest negatives in life are unemployment and divorce.

* Better-educated people report higher levels of happiness, even after taking income into account.

* Comparisons matter. Reported well-being correlates to a person's wage relative to an average or "comparison" wage. …

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