Thursday, February 3, 2011

Black - White happiness gap is narrowing

Two professors at the University of Pennsylvania have found the gap in happiness between Blacks and Whites has narrowed in the US. The gap has narrow because of a decrease in happiness by Whites and and significant increase in happiness of Blacks. The gains in Black happiness exceed expected gains due only to income. Gains were also concentrated in Women and people living in the South.

The researchers used data from the General Social Survey. They looked at data from 1972 to 2008. The survey asked respondents to answer the question: "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days, would you say you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy ?" The responses were coded to "Not to Happy" = 1; "Pretty Happy" = 2; and "Very Happy" = 3. The results were standardized by subtracting the mean and dividing by the standard deviation(STD). So, the results are reported in units of standard deviations. (Whew!). So, basically, to make the comparison, the researchers had to rank and standardize their measure.

The results show that in 1972 Blacks were 0.45 standard deviations less happy than whites, but by 2008 the gap has closed to 0.27 STD. The gap is continuing to close because of increases in Black happiness and small decreases in White happiness. In addition, the change in happiness is more than can explained by changes in income over the same period. The Black - White income gap has closed little over the period.

The paper also tried to account for other factors that might influence Black happiness during the study period such as region, gender, income, age, health, job, and marital status.

"In 1972 the racial gap in happiness was largest among women, the young, Southerners, college graduates, the unemployed, married people, and the top half of the income distribution." By 2008, the gaps for women was eliminated. There were also larges gain in the South. Those with more education and higher incomes still and had large happiness gaps as did 18-29 year olds.

You can read the report details here. They used data from the General Social survey which measures reported happiness in different groups since 1972.

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