Over the past four decades, income inequality has grown considerably, with those in the top income brackets increasing their incomes substantially while the rest of us in the middle and lower brackets have stagnated.  So the rich are getting filthy rich, while the rest of us are barely getting by.  Maybe it’s scant consolation, but growing income inequality hasn’t been matched by a growing inequality in happiness.  In fact, in a recent three-part blog entry, economist Justin Wolfers reports that a study he did with fellow economist Betsey Stevenson found the opposite.  The happier among us are less happy, and the unhappy are less miserable. 

Specifically, Wolfers and Stevenson used data from the General Social Survey, which asks a representative sample of Americans: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days? Would you say that you are: very happy; pretty happy; or not too happy?”  Tracking how many survey respondents gave each of the three possible responses, the researchers found that, since 1972, an increasing percentage chose the middle category, but fewer and fewer people described themselves as either “very happy” or “not too happy.”  This change is evident in the graph that Wolfers provides:INSERT DESCRIPTION

The researchers performed several additional analyses, and found that the decline in variability took place pretty much whatever region, gender, race, education level, age, marital status was examined.  Overall happiness levels haven’t changed, but there are fewer people in the higher and lower categories, and more in the middle. 

Wolfers doesn’t speculate about the reason or reasons for this trend.  Whatever the answer, it has to apply to all demographic groups, since the decreased variability showed up everywhere.  Does anyone have a suggestion?

Thanks to Carl Dyke for sending a link to the web page.