Workshop on Well-Being I

JANUARY 22, 2008

Yesterday I attended the first of a series of “Workshops on Well-being” at the LSE organized by Paul Dolan, Richard Layard and Andrew Oswald. Below can be found some (very) impressionistic notes.

Talk by Andrew Oswald: Does Higher Job-Status Make a Person Healthier? A Longitudinal Test of the Whitehall Hypothesis

Basic (well-known) facts:

  • Strong inverted u-shape in depression/anxiety over life-cycle peaking in mid-40s to mid-50s
  • Need to move away from GDP to well-being in the next century
  • More collaboration across discipline
  • Across countries wealth correlated with happiness
  • Within country across time (i.e. repeated cross-sections) no real growth in happiness (though growth in money)
  • Now have data for Britain, Belgium and Netherlands and we reject null of no change in GHQ over time (so there is a decline in mental health over time).
  • Can repeat across EU countries.

New social welfare functions:

  • blood pressure, obesity, height.
  • Life Satisfaction (LS) from NCDS: LS=f(high blood pressure, personal controls). high blood pressure enters negative.
  • Well-being and height (guided by John Komlos)
    • danes and netherlands have been getting taller faster than anyone else (in US it may even be going down recently i.e. since ~1990)
    • this is interesting because danes and nthlands are happiest (and US is pretty unhappy)
    • height and happiness are correlated in rich EU countries (this still holds with deltas of height and happiness)
  • Weight and well-being
    • BMI enters negatively in regressions for LS, Happiness, well-being (GHQ)
    • Christakis and Fowler The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. NEJM 2007
    • Summarizes his paper on BMI with Powdthavee (where relative effects are significant)
    • u is concave in relative position then upward spirals, convexity then deviate from herd.
    • Relative BMI enters negatively (along with absolute BMI)
    • Carol Graham on US and Russians

Status and well-being.

  • Look at the ‘Whitehall effect’ using longitudinal data. Contrary to existing cross-sectional results finding a robust effect they do not find such a result. This suggests that cross-section results may be picking up causality the other way and the resulting selection effect (people who are healthier get promoted).
  • Redelmeier and Singh, Annals of Internal Medicine (Oscar winners live longer). But lot of issues statistically (not enough controls)
  • Rablen and Oswald (2006), look at Nobel prize winners (vs. nominees). Get 1.6 extra years.
  • Final aside: did experiment looking at reporting function on height. Found perceived height was linearly related to actual height.


Paul Dolan

  • When do we compare?
  • Inequalities (higher moments …)
  • Mental health and well-being (v. blurred distinction)
  • International comparisons (are they useful)
  • What measures if we move away from GDP?


  • Range frequency theory
    • Parducci etc
  • How happy they are with weight
    • Actual weight vs. actual weight
  • Gilevich study
    • won a medal. Silver medallists less happy than bronze medallists.
  • Increase in reports of morbidity but less actual illness.

Own questions

QU: if we’re hoping for a reorientation of public policy in relation to happiness and GDP) one would want to ask why hasn’t there already been a reorientation in relation to other areas (e.g. environment and GDP) – or at least why has it been so slow.

QU: Is relative effects in obesity coming from status stuff or from signalling (i.e. I use other people’s weight to compute what the optimal weight is). Has importance to determining policy impact.