Happiness Levels of Low Income Vs. High Income Earners

Previous studies have detected some association between household income, socioeconomic status, and well-being in individuals. This study was a compilation of the results of two surveys that asked people to rate their own and others’ level of happiness based on income. The results show that at higher levels of incomes, predictions of happiness linked to income were accurate. However, participants wrongly believed that people with lower incomes would be less happy then they actually are.

There is an association between happiness, well-being and money. This encourages many people to pursue money to gain happiness and satisfaction in life. This study reviewed two previous surveys which investigated what people think about the degree of happiness well-being, and satisfaction experienced by others with more or less income. In both surveys, the participants were asked to predict their own and others’ happiness at different income  levels. They were also asked how happy they would be at each of the different income levels. The analysis attempted to clarify the importance of peoples’ income in their perception of happiness and well-being in themselves and in others.

* In the first part of the study, 429 individuals were selected to participate in an online survey. The average age was around 40 years and 56 percent of the sample were female.
* All participants were asked to report their age, sex and yearly household income in a questionnaire. Then they were given time to consider 10 income-group households and asked to predict the level of happiness in each group.
* The second part of the study included 315 individuals who also participated in an online survey. The average age of the participants was around 52 and 45 percent were female.
* These participants had to answer a questionnaire that asked them to predict their happiness if they were hypothetically placed at each of the 10 income levels. Their own life satisfaction was also assessed at their present socioeconomic status.

Key findings
* The results from the first part of the study showed that most people thought that high-income families (above US$ 90,000 per year) were happier, which is true to some extent.
* Most people thought that those in the lower income groups (below US$ 55,000) would not be happy. They were significantly wrong in these predictions.
* The second part of the study showed that people thought they would be happier if they were in the high-income household group, rather than in the low-income group. While the first prediction was relatively accurate, the second was quite inaccurate.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The low-income groups consisted mainly of  retired persons and students. This may not provide a fair representation because these individuals may have other reasons to be happy. A better representation of this income group would be households that actually run on low income. Further studies could resolve this concern.

The two surveys in this study show that, in general, people believe that money can bring happiness and well-being as well as overall satisfaction in life. This belief is true to some extent in high-income families, but is not accurate for the lower income groups where the relationship between money and happiness is not so direct. The authors believe that it is this false belief that leads people to “chase opportunities for increased wealth or forgo a reduction in income for increased free time.” Further research is required to explore peoples’ perceptions of the factors that lead to happiness and well-being. These factors, according to the authors, may be a balance of many things ranging from “making money to building friendships to finding God.”

For More Information:
From Wealth to Well-Being? Money Matters, but Less than People Think
The Journal of Positive Psychology, November 2009
By Lara B Aknin; Michael I Norton, et al., University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada and Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts

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