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Inequality in happiness: inequality in countries compared across countries

By Ruut Veenhoven


Cross-national studies on happiness have focused on differences in level of happiness. The focus of this paper is on spread in happiness in the nation, also called ‘inequality in happiness’. Inequality in happiness in nations can be measured by the size of the standard deviation of responses to survey questions about the ‘overall appreciation of one’s life-as-a-whole’. This paper considers spread in happiness in 28 countries around 1980. Contrary to notions of a ‘divided’ society none of these countries shows a bi-modal distribution of happiness. All distribution are uni-modal, but the distributions are not equally flat. There are considerable differences in size of the standard deviations. These differences are not a statistical artifact of variation in level of happiness and appear quite constant through time. Inequality in happiness appears to be greater in the socio-economically most unequal countries and smaller in politically democratic and economically developed nations. Contrary to expectation, inequality in happiness appears to be more closely linked to social equality among rich nations than among not-so-rich ones.

Topics: D31 - Personal Income, Wealth, and Their Distributions, D63 - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement, I31 - General Welfare, O57 - Comparative Studies of Countries
Year: 1990
DOI identifier: 10.1007/s10902-005-0003-x
OAI identifier:

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