Does Inequality Make Us Unhappy?

By Carmen Sobczak
Via Yes Magazine  

A new study suggests Americans’ happiness declines when there’s a wider gap between rich and poor.

In 1980, the average American CEO’s income was 40 times higher than that of the average worker. Today, it is well over 300 times higher.

A new study suggests this rising income inequality in the United States doesn’t just affect Americans’ pocketbooks; it affects their happiness. Over the past four decades, according to the study, the American people have been the least happy in years when there was the widest gap between rich and poor.

In the study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, researchers examined 50,000 responses to the General Social Survey, which has tracked well-being in the United States since 1972. The researchers, led by Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia, zeroed in on Americans’ levels of happiness between 1972 and 2008, along with their perceptions of how fair and trustworthy other people are. Oishi and his colleagues compared these responses both with participants’ reported household income over those years and with a U.S. Census measure of income inequality.

Consistent with previous studies, the results show that the American population as a whole is less happy in times of greater income inequality. However, this wasn’t true across all income brackets: Only low-income participants—people whose income placed them in the bottom 40 percent of the entire U.S. population—reported reduced happiness in times of greater inequality. For other Americans, inequality was not reliably linked to greater happiness or unhappiness. Read story at Yes Magazine

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