Saturday, August 30, 2014

Happy Neighbors Are Good For You, Wealthy Ones Are Not: Some Insights From a First Study of Well-Being in Mongolia

There is burgeoning literature on well-being around the world, much of which finds consistent patterns in its determinants in countries and cultures around the world. Many of these patterns are predictable: Income matters to individual well-being, but after a certain point other things such as the incomes of others also start to matter. Health is essential to well-being, and stable partnerships, stable marriages and social relationships also play a role. Women are typically happier than men, except in contexts where their rights are severely compromised. And because these patterns are so consistent across diverse countries and cultures, scholars in the field can control for these factors and explore the well-being effects of phenomena that vary more, such as inflation and unemployment rates, crime and corruption, smoking, drinking, exercising, and the nature of public goods, among others. There is also nascent literature on the causal properties of well-being, which finds that happier people are, for the most part, healthier and more productive.

Within this broader frame, we undertook the first extensive survey of well-being in Mongolia, a remote and unique context where citizens had recently experienced a dramatic transition in the nature of their economy and political system. A primary question was whether the basic patterns in the determinants of well-being trends would hold in Mongolia—landlocked between China and Russia, the least densely populated country in the world, with a rich history and nomadic heritage, and full of sharp contrasts. For all of these reasons, one could expect that well-being trends there might diverge from the usual patterns that we find elsewhere.

Because of the detailed and disaggregated nature of the data that we were able to collect, we were also able to explore additional questions for which larger-scale, less fine grained data sets do not allow. In particular, we focused on the well-being effects of average community- level income and of average community-level happiness, and how these varied depending on where in the income distribution respondents were, as well as where in the well-being distribution respondents were. As is increasingly common in the literature, we analyzed two distinct dimensions of well-being—hedonic and evaluative—separately, comparing our findings across these dimensions in Mongolia to those that we have based on worldwide data.

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