With socioeconomic factors being increasingly polarizing in today’s world, the link between wealth and happiness is stronger than ever, researchers find.
A new study from the San Diego State University (SDSU) reports that the link between indicators such as income and education and happiness has been growing ever stronger during the last few decades.
According to the findings, the more income someone has, the happier they’re likely to be. Unlike previous findings in this area, however, the authors didn’t find this effect plateauing at a yearly income of about $75,000.
“I was surprised that income was so strongly related to happiness and that happiness didn’t plateau at higher levels of income,” said SDSU psychologist Jean Twenge, one of the study’s two authors. “More money seems to equal more happiness, even after basic needs are met.”
The two authors used data on 44,198 U.S. adults age 30 and over in the nationally representative General Social Survey (gathered from 1972 to 2016).
As a rule of thumb, people with higher incomes in the study reported greater levels of happiness and life satisfaction. This trend has been growing stronger since the 1970s and ’80s, the authors report. In other words, money today seems able to buy more happiness than it did in the past.
These trends also lead to a growing happiness divide. White Americans with no college education saw a drop in happiness after the year 2000, while white Americans with a college degree saw steady levels. For black Americans with no college education, happiness levels have remained steady over the same timeframe, while those with a college degree saw higher levels of happiness.
“We’re not exactly sure why there’s a growing divide in happiness, but it might be because of growing income inequality. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” said Twenge.
Such findings tie into other research which uncovered growing levels of ‘despair‘ among working-class white Americans, Twenge adds. While economic woes could be the root of the issue, another explanation could lie in decreasing rates of marriage. These used to be pretty similar across different socioeconomic groups in the US, but has been steadily dropping among lower-income individuals (and married people tend to report higher levels of happiness on average).
Another take on the matter could be that money buys security, comfort, and quality healthcare, all of which lead to a happier life.
Taken at face value, the findings help showcase just how important economic factors are for our well-being and satisfaction in life. A more concerning implication is that happiness today is increasingly a perk of the rich, which does not bode well for the health of our societies. So stay in school kids and make it rain — it’s the basis of a happy life.
The paper “The expanding class divide in happiness in the United States, 1972–2016” has been published in the journal Emotion.