Ruut Veenhoven, with the assistance of Renee
van Schoonhoven and Piet Ouweneel
Paper presented at the 12th Work Congress of Sociology in Madrid July 1990.Working Group Social Indicators and Quality of Life. Session 7, Social trends and Inequality.
Cross-national studies on happiness have focused on differences in level of happiness. The focus of this paper is on spread in happiness in the nation, also called inequality in happiness. Inequality in happiness in nations can be measured by the size of the standard deviation of responses to survey questions about the overall appreciation of ones life-as-a-whole.
This paper considers spread in happiness in 28 countries around 1980. Contrary to notions of a divided society none of these countries shows a bi-modal distribution of happiness. All distribution are uni-modal, but the distributions are not equally flat. There are considerable differences in size of the standard deviations. These differences are not a statistical artifact of variation in level of happiness and appear quite constant through time.
Inequality in happiness appears to be greater in the socio-economically most unequal countries and smaller in politically democratic and economically developed nations. Contrary to expectation, inequality in happiness appears to be more closely linked to social equality among rich nations than among not-so-rich ones.