Monday, 14 May 2018

Money, sex and happiness

On Saturday, I wrote a post about some research that identified happiness researchers as being perceived as happier than economics Nobel Prize winners or other top economists. Maybe it's because they get to do research like this 2004 paper by David Blanchflower (Dartmouth College) and Andrew Oswald (Warwick University), published in the Scandinavian Journal of Economics (ungated version here). [*]

In the paper, Blanchflower and Oswald look at the relationship between sex and happiness, using data on around 16,000 Americans from the General Social Survey between 1989 and 2002 (as an aside the GSS data are available online for you to play with here!). The paper has lots of interesting findings, but here is a quick summary of the headline results:
Having sex at least four times a week is associated with approximately 0.12 happiness points, which is a large effect (it is, very roughly, about one-half of the size of the effect of marriage on happiness)... may bring more happiness to the highly educated than to the less-educated...
How many sexual partners in the last year will maximize a person’s happiness?... the simple answer according to these GSS data is one sexual partner...
...people who say they have ever paid for sex are considerably less happy than others. Those who have ever had sex outside their marriage also report notably low happiness scores.
And finally:
We know from these equations that money does seem to buy greater happiness. But it does not buy more sex.
That last conclusion might seem unusual given that sexual services can be readily purchased. What they really found is that people with higher incomes report higher happiness, but they do not have more sex, than people with lower incomes do.

Of course, this research doesn't tell us anything about causality, as Blanchflower and Oswald acknowledge in the paper. Maybe sex makes people happier, or maybe happier people have more sex, or maybe there is some third variable (personality traits?) that makes people both happier and more inclined to have sex? Disentangling those possibilities requires further work. Google Scholar suggests that the Blanchflower and Oswald paper has been cited over 440 times - maybe the answer is in there somewhere?


[*] Although, you may remember Andrew Oswald as being the least happy-looking of all the researchers from that research paper I referred to on Saturday!

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