For years, experts have cited the negative effects of economic disparity, particularly on those in the lowest income brackets. Now, new research suggests that there is a psychological factor that plays a role in that unhappiness. Shigehiro Oishi, University of Virginia psychologist, says, “”we’ve seen that people seem to be happier when there is more equality.” Oishi, who conducted the study, adds, “Income disparity has grown a lot in the U.S., especially since the 1980s. With that, we’ve seen a marked drop in life satisfaction and happiness.” The groundbreaking study was conducted in collaboration with Virginia colleague Selin Kesebir and Ed Diener of the University of Illinois. The results are significant for over half of Americans who fall into the lower social and economic brackets.
To determine what factors led to those results, the researchers studied data that spanned a 37 year period and included more than 45,000 respondents. The information assessed was compiled from the General Social Survey and random polls. Respondents were asked to rate their level of happiness and also to gauge what sense of equality and trust they felt from their peers. The answers were evaluated with relation to the respondents’ income level. The findings revealed that although many people who fell into the lower income brackets expressed dissatisfaction, it was not due to their economic position. The main factor that determined happiness or unhappiness was related to a decreased sense of trust and fairness.
The researchers did note that income inequality had no effect on perceived trustworthiness or fairness for the wealthiest Americans. This study is unique because it isolates findings in one nation only, and spans several decades. This consistency allowed researchers to locate the link between happiness and economic position. Oishi adds, “The implications are clear: If we care about the happiness of most people, we need to do something about income inequality.”
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.