Income and Happiness

Today, I cam upon an interesting research article: “Income and emotional well-being: A conflict resolved.” The article presents the results of a new study regarding the dependence of income and well-being, often used, at least by laymen such as myself, as a proxy for happiness.

The findings are interesting as they seem to fit better with many peoples intuition, more money makes more happy, sending the article to reddits ‘not the onion’ subreddit. The subreddit collects articles that seem satirical based on their title – everyone knows nobody reads the content.

Anyways, the findings discuss the previously found leveling-off of well-being improvements after a certain point, i.e., $75.000 per year, by Kahneman and Deaton. This new study shows their data suggests this is only the case for the unhappiest 20% of high earners, while otherwise the log-linear relationship holds: More money makes more happy.

These “discussions” on reddit usually go a certain way, e.g., Empathetic_Orch says:

I make under 30k a year so this is pretty obvious to me. If I could make 60k a year I’d be happy.


This is just an example of a popular kind of comment, I see quite often. I was curious what the results actually said and how they are presented. The article focuses on the change around the point of $100k household income and uses this as its only new visualization. Note though, that this shows the log of the income.

The authors provide their data easily – Thank You! – so it is simple for everyone to create new visualizations. So i threw the data in a few visualizations tools to make myself happy.

Violin plot of Killingsworth, Kahneman and Mellers data on the income-wellbeing relationship, using the income brackets used in the data.

First I wanted an overview of the distributions, to get a feeling for the data. Seaborn has a nice and simple way to plot violin plots. The quantiles of the distribution, shown as dashed lines within the violines, seem to indicate a fairly clear upwards trend over the brackets.

It is important to note, that the brackets organized in this way, still are mostly logarithmic, as they get larger and larger. To alleviate this, I computed the 10th and 90th percentile in addition to the quartiles.

Income BracketP10Q1MedianQ3P90
10th percentile, first quartile, median, thrid quartile and 90th percentile of the well-being indicator for each income bracket that had data.

Based on this information, I created a log-regression for a new visualization.

Logarithmic regression of the summary statistics of the data. The red band shows the inter quartile range (Q1 to Q3) of the well-being indicator across income brackets, while the blue band shows the range from 10th to 90th percentile (the center 80% of the population) of the given bracket. The xticks show the midpoint of the income brackets, similar to the original article.

The authors of the original article note: There is not enough data to make any meaningful conclusions for the >$500k bracket, so lets ignore the seeming drop for the richest respondents to the survey.

For me, the more important thing to draw from this, is more related to the reddit comment I showed as an example. If you are unhappy at $30k, would you be happy at $60k?
Who knows, you are an individual not a statistic.

But, for a large population, the answer is who knows… While someone earning ~$400k unhappily (10th percentile) is still unhappier than 75% of people earning ~$15k, a person moving up in earning from $15k to $400k, might become happier. That’s not in the data.

It is important to realize though, that well-being is a wide spectrum within any earning bracket. There are many happy low-earners, as there are many unhappy high-earners.

So, best of luck /r/Empathetic_Orch, I hope you can make it to $60k quickly, and that it actually makes you happy. 🙂

The notebook used as python script.

ps: This is a random blogpost and I am not a professional in the relevant field. I just do this for fun, if you base any policy on a blogpost by and idiot like me, you are an idiot as well.

General Stories

The Beach – A Short Story

A starry night.

His bare foot touched the warm, but dark water of the sea. The wet feeling was welcome after this long walk. Standing still in this location was the payoff for a, surprisingly tough, journey from the closest village. It used to be easy to get here! Was it because it was night? No – he remembered well coming here at night before. Was it because the path deteriorated? The townsfolk must have neglected it. Surely, they have no use for the beauty of this spot, so maintaining the path was not worth it to them. Nonetheless it was a treasure for him.

A wave of unusually cold water washed over his feet. He backed off from the sea – he felt betrayed. Just a few steps away, he realized the ridiculousness of that feeling and sat down. Was this not what he should expect from the sea? Was this not even the reason he came here? The sea did not betray him – he betrayed his own expectations.

Slowly he sat down, his gaze drifts from one oncoming wave to the next, until it reaches the horizon. He noticed the lights of a far away ship, competing with the stars above his head and the dim lights of the village behind him. None could really claim the title of brightest, and not only because the moon was already holding that. He laid down on his back, taking in the full, yellowish glowing circle of the brightest.

A refreshing cool wind let him shudder for a moment. When they were here together, this never was a problem – for obvious reasons. They would just cuddle closer for those short moments and enjoy the otherwise cozy temperatures. He could barely remember coming here alone at night anymore. Did he bring a jacket before? He didn’t today at least. It shouldn’t be much of a hassle to just wait it out! A few moments of freezing or returning early? An easy choice.

A loud caw of a probably colorful bird caught his attention. It must have been close. The moon did not plan on making it easy for him to spot it. Another one, slightly further away – was the bird leaving? Or was a second bird approaching him? He slowly turned around, using his hands to keep himself steady. His eyes needed some time to adapt, too, after staring at the bright moon. Only a few seconds. It was barely enough to catch a glimpse of the bird flying through the trees he himself emerged from not that long ago.

Now that he focused on the trees, he notices some activity. A few smaller birds were happily chirping, while taking turns fishing for bugs in the air. A flying squirrel sailing through the night – a sight he hadn’t even noticed by day! How could he have missed all of this when wandering by? Was he too focused on his goal? His own expectation of arriving? The short distraction made him lose sight of the squirrel, something he instantly started to regret.

Regret. A word which can create a powerful downwards spiral of thoughts in many heads. He came here to for the experience of the past, but somehow it turned out to be so different. Was it tainted by the time they spent here together? Or was the, nearly magical, power of the experience before just unattainable? Coming back, just for the sake of going back.

When they came here the first time, he wanted to share the mystical nature of his favorite spot. The view far above the sea. The reflection of the sun, the stars, the moon. No matter the time they would come here, it was always beautiful. But today it felt like he didn’t belong here, even the road tried to stop him. He should go back after all, for the sake of accepting fate as it was. He got up.

He stopped. Had he given up? Yes. Had he not accepted his fate all the time? Was it him putting in the effort? No; he did not want to give up. There was so much to do, so much to say to each other, so much beauty and warmth to experience together!

Some splashes of warm water from the waves hit his feet. The lukewarm wind slightly pushed him to the road home. He looked forward to the path taking him there.