Pointing out that Easterlin had little data to work with 35 years ago, Stevenson and Wolfers draw their conclusions from data about more countries, including poor ones, over longer periods of time. Public opinion surveys and other studies show that life satisfaction is highest in richer countries. In the United States, for instance, 9 in 10 Gallup Survey respondents in households making more than $250,000 a year called themselves "very happy," compared to only 4 in 10 with incomes below $30,000. "On balance," Stevenson and Wolfers conclude, "GDP and happiness have tended to move together." The bottom line, they say, is that absolute income matters.
What do these new findings mean in practice? A pair of British economists suggest that government's policy goals should focus less on growing GDP and more on improving measures that directly affect happiness.
Easterlin would probably agree. He now concedes that people in wealthy countries do report more happiness than those in poorer countries. But he still doubts that money alone is the reason. Comparing Denmark and Zimbabwe, for instance, he says, "The Danes have social welfare policies directed toward some of the most salient concerns of families-their health, care for the aged, child care. If you ask why the Danes are happier, an alternative hypothesis is they have a set of public policies that deal more immediately with people's fundamental concerns."
And the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has, in fact, replaced GDP with a measure it calls "gross national happiness."
Critical Thinking Questions
Q1. What do you think is the role of money as a determinant of a person's satisfaction at work and with life in general? Should organizations worry about this issue? Explain.
Q2. As discussed in chapter, firms vary widely on the extent to which they emphasize money as an incentive. Do you think an emphasis on financial incentives is good or bad? Explain.
Q3. "How do you communicate to a workforce that isn't created equally? How do you treat a workforce in which everyone has a different deal?"