The link between higher national income and higher national life satisfaction is critical to economic policymaking. This column presents new evidence that the connection is hump-shaped. There is a clear, positive relation in the poorer nations and regions, but it flattens out at around $30,000–$35,000, and then turns negative.
Figure 1 Relationship between GDP per capita and life satisfaction
Figure 2 Relationship between regional GDP and life satisfaction in Europe
Our econometric analysis implies that long-term GDP growth is certainly desirable among poorer countries, but is it a desirable feature among developed countries as well? Recent evidence shows the negative effect of high aspiration can also be rationally predicted by individuals who, nevertheless, may still choose options that may not seem to maximise happiness, but which are compatible with high-income aspirations.
This implies that individuals may still prefer to live in richer countries, even if this would result in a decreased level of life satisfaction. In other words, the fact that individuals aspire to a higher income may not be considered – from an individual perspective – a negative feature of an economy even if this might result in a lower level of reported life satisfaction among the richest countries.