Thursday, May 6, 2010

How much can we trust happiness surveys?

Not much when they disagree with your politics, writes Stephanie Coontz:
Wolf is rightly skeptical of the anti-feminist claim that women were happier in the past, pointing out that historical comparisons of reported happiness overlook the ways that women tamped down their expectations when they had few options for challenging unfair relationships at home or at work. A 1962 Gallup poll, for instance, reported that women were the happiest people on earth because, as one housewife reported "a woman needs a master-slave relationship whether it's husband and wife or boss-secretary." Buried in the article was the astonishing fact that almost 90 percent of these self-reported happy housewives hoped their daughters would not follow in their footprints.
There are a lot of problem's with happiness surveys. I'm working with data on life satisfaction for a paper and there are not a lot of conclusions you can draw. My work is largely in studying the biases and unreliability in the data.

But, as the old saying goes, the facts are the facts, so dismissing the evidence on sight isn't a productive strategy. Justin Wolfers, one of the leaders in subjective well-being research, wrote a great post on this topic a few months ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment