Estimating overall happiness in nations from components of happiness using mixed-effect models

Ruut Veenhoven and Alvaro Fraquet

EHERO working paper 2021-3

Happiness is a new topic in studies on the comparative performance of nations. The first cross-national studies date from the 1950s and covered a dozen of mainly developed nations. Today happiness is assessed periodically in almost all nations in the world, resulting in some 12.000 observations of average happiness in nations in a particular year.
          In spite of this data abundance, we still lack a rank-list of average happiness that covers all contemporary nations. The main reason is that the surveys used in the nations applied different questions on happiness, producing scores on which cannot be compared. This limits any listing to the most commonly used measure.
          Today, the most commonly used measure of overall happiness is a single question on life-satisfaction rated on a numerical 0-10 step scale. Until 2007 this measure was available for most nations of the world but since the Gallup World Poll stopped using this question, we now lack direct information on life-satisfaction for a lot of countries. The Gallup World Poll does provide information on two other measures of happiness in nations, 1) affect level as measured with questions about yesterday’s positive and negative affects and 2) l ife-evaluation as measured with the Cantril ladder question.
          These measures tap components of happiness rather than overall happiness. Yet, when taken together, these component measures may still provide us with an estimate of overall happiness.  In this paper we present an exploration of this option. Using data for nations on which data about all three happiness variants are available in the same year, we inspected which combination of the two components of happiness best fit with observed overall happiness in these nations. We calculated various statistical models, both fixed-effects and mixed-effects, and assessed a point estimate of satisfaction with the average measure from one of these models. This estimate was then used to complete a rank list of overall happiness in 160 nations hor the years 2010-2019.

Keywords: cross-national, overall happiness, components of happiness, life-satisfaction, imputation of missing cases

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