Does Socioeconomic Status Determine Happiness?

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

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Louis


    June 16th, 2011 at 4:01 AM

    No matter what your economic condition,if people around you are at a comparable level then all seems fine.But if there’s a huge difference and you find yourself economically weak compared to those around you then it surely does have an effect in your mind,doesn’t it?I’m not surprised by the findings here.

  • Pam


    June 16th, 2011 at 4:24 AM

    It would for me! Give me the money and I guarantee I would be a much happier girl! ;)

  • alex


    June 16th, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    it definitely plays a part in how happy people are…and when I say this I assume we are talking about socioeconomic condition and not purely economic conditions…because although a weak economic condition may not be able to dwindle the morale of certain individuals, a weak socioeconomic status certainly can…!

  • nicola farraday

    nicola farraday

    June 16th, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    I think the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots is bound to create both animosity and unhappiness amongst the poorest in society.

    When life appears unfair, we get upset, and if we see that unfairness reflected every single day in our surroundings, that feeling deepens and takes root. That’s when revolts happen.

    It reminds me of the medieval times where you had the king holding court inside his lavish castle while the peasants were scrabbling around outside the gates for food, hoping for entrance to the courtyard and the safety within its walls.

  • Yolanda


    June 17th, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    Think about all of the people who have played the lottery and have won and then the next thing that you know they are filing for bankruptcy. Having money does not mean that you will be financially stable any more than it mean that it could make you happy for life. You have to find a way to be happy with who you are and the things that you have that are not material in nature. The money yes could be an added bonus but I in no way think that it is the key to eternal and lasting confort and happiness.

  • Elliot Bryden

    Elliot Bryden

    June 19th, 2011 at 11:32 PM

    There was a study done by the NIH that found that the links between rates of suicide with your class aren’t very conclusive. I don’t think it can get as extreme as driving you over the edge at all since what can depress a person is usually something that commonly affects everybody to a degree. We’d all be over the edge if it did.

  • Rowen A.

    Rowen A.

    June 20th, 2011 at 12:23 AM

    @Elliot Bryden–with all due respect I disagree, Elliot. I’m certain it does.

    When you’re at the bottom of the pile for just about everything and can see no way of escaping from that, you’re going to eventually come to the conclusion that there’s really no point in living like that.

    You’ll always be miserable if you can’t make ends meet and there’s no conceivable path towards changing that reality, especially when you see so much affluence in other’s lives.

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