The Pursuit of Happiness

Timothy G. Bechtel


Contemporary cross-cultural comparisons of life satisfaction show that survey research, by going
to the people broadly and representatively, is a crucial complement to ethnography. Using
the survey approach, the present article poses the following research question: is happiness
driven more by economic or psychological factors? This question is investigated in the English
and German populations with the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), the German
Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP), and the European Social Survey (ESS). The results of the
present study show that English and German life satisfaction follow different time trends and
have different compositions. Both are driven more by psychological than economic factors, but
Germans are more economically sensitive. The R2 = .59, achieved here for explaining English
happiness, appears to be the highest yet recorded in the quality-of-life literature. This English
R2 increases to .78 when a personality effect is included in the multiple-item predictor. Moreover,
in the financial, housing and medical spheres of experience subjective representations of
physical variables, rather than the physical scales themselves, are the operational determinants
of life satisfaction. Finally, an important methodological result emerges in the present study;
namely, ordinary regression of cardinal satisfaction scales can replace logistic regression in
revealing the values of a nation.


Life satisfaction; economic versus psychological determination; panel versus cross-sectional regression; cardinal versus ordinal regression (slope plot); subjective versus objective predictors; multiple-item indicators; revealed values

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