The happiness of economists

by on December 6, 2013 at 9:19 am in Data Source, Economics, Philosophy | Permalink

There is a new paper by Lars P. Feld, Sarah Necker, and Bruno S. Frey, and here is the abstract:

This study investigates the determinants of economists’ life satisfaction. The analysis is based on a survey of professional, mostly academic economists from European countries and beyond. We find that certain features of economists’ professional situation influence their well-being. Happiness is increased by having more research time while the lack of a tenured position decreases satisfaction in particular if the contract expires in the near future or cannot be extended. Surprisingly, publication success has no effect on satisfaction. While the perceived level of external pressure also has no impact, the perceived change of pressure in recent years has. Economists may have accepted a high level of pressure when entering academia but do not seem to be willing to cope with the increase observed in recent years.

You will note that “Economists tend to report a high level of life satisfaction.”  Furthermore this does not vary by gender.  Here are the nationality effects:

Compared to German economists, Italian, French and researchers from Eastern European countries have a statistically significantly lower probability to report being “highly satisfied” (significant at least at the 5%-level).  A similar effect is observed for economists from Spain, Portugal, and Austria; the effects are, however, at most significant at the 10%-level. Researchers from Switzerland, North America and Scandinavian countries tend to be more happy.

For the pointer I thank Viktor Brech.

mgs December 6, 2013 at 9:30 am

B on the lookout for 4 dubiously similar articles by Frey and his coauthors coming soon.

Brian Donohue December 6, 2013 at 9:40 am

So…don’t be an economist if you live in a country with a crummy economy?

prior_approval December 6, 2013 at 10:49 am

Not if you are one of the hosts of the web site – he is on record as saying he expects to be personally happy in 20 years, even if most people around him are in worse financial shape, as he expects. (German only)

Guest December 6, 2013 at 9:11 pm


ummm December 6, 2013 at 11:30 am

Economists tend to me more rational, logical people that value data & empirical evidence over emotions, partisanship, and media generated ‘narratives’. A common narrative is that the economy is weak even though there is an abundance of data that contradicts this. Most narratives involve reductionism – an attempt or tendency to explain a complex set of facts, entities, phenomena, or structures by another, simpler set and, secondly, the fallacy of composition. An example of reductionism is making an assessment that the entire US economy is in poor shape because low paying service sector jobs constitute the bulk of employment gains. This data may be true, but we cannot make an inference about the health of the entire economy from it. The fallacy of composition the false assumption that something which is true for one segment of the economy is true for the economy as a whole. So if I cannot afford to pay my debt then neither can the govt. and thus the nation must default – a common but incorrect narrative.

JWatts December 6, 2013 at 11:35 am

A common narrative is that the economy is weak even though there is an abundance of data that contradicts this.

The data indicated the economy is mixed, some parts are weak and some parts are strong. So, you can craft a narrative to support your view fairly easily and it’s why we keep hearing contradictory opinions.

Guest December 6, 2013 at 9:13 pm

DJIA = 1620!!! Stawks are back!

A Definite Beta Guy December 6, 2013 at 11:36 am

Based on this information, we definitely, assuredly, 100%, can NOT rule out the possibility that, for the economically minded, merely stepping foot in Italy or France will reduce happiness (vs Germany)

This means, of course, that my vacation next year should be in Germany. Not France or Italy. Let’s see if this works with the significant other…

Kerokan December 6, 2013 at 11:54 am

Based on that abstract the findings seem to suffer badly from post-treatment bias. Economists are happier if they have job security and research time, but publication record does not matter? Where do you think tenure and reseach opportunites come from? They are themselves consequences of one’s publication record of course.

EJMR December 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm

“Surprisingly, publication success has no effect on satisfaction.”
Regretting all the self-plagiarism now are we, Bruno?

chuck martel December 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm

What a meaningful, earth-shaking study! Nobel Prize material. Come to think of it a guy would have at least a start on happiness if he worked in a climate-controlled environment, never had to lift anything heavier than a copy of “The Wealth of Nations” and was able to ogle post-teen babes walking past the office window.

Tenured E. Conomist, Ph.D December 6, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Au contraire, all economists are perfectly happy. Clearly being an economist maximizes their utility, else they would simply quit and do something else. Revealed preferences, etc, quite simple stuff really.

James December 6, 2013 at 2:11 pm

The good news is most of us aren’t running around teaching as adjuncts at three different places like humanities professors. On the other hand, when people I work with complain about this or that, I do mention that even in good times few people leave our profession. So that must tell us something.

ChrisA December 6, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Happiness versus Life Satisfaction is probably the key here. I have a demanding job, with multiple stakeholders in multiple countries and which requires me to work long hours at times. I am often angry, frustrated and despondent when things are not going right. I could very easily get a much less stressful job, which would place less demands on me or even retire (I am wealthy enough). But I feel that there is long term value in what I am doing, plus when I am honest I would rather be stressed than bored. Maybe on a happiness scale I would not score highly (objectively speaking) but overall I have chosen my situation based more on life satisfaction. I suspect many academic economists, certainly in the early parts of their careers, are in a similar situation.

Pelham December 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Well over 80% of the economists in this online survey sample did not respond.
(survey Non-Response Rate >80%)

How would those many non-responders have answered the survey questions? Nobody knows.

Generalizing from such a non-scientific survey is for amusement only.

Dale December 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

I am not amused. But then, I’m probably not happy either.

Jack PQ December 7, 2013 at 11:19 am

I ignore Bruno Frey since “Frey-gate”. I don’t trust anything he writes or reports.

Also, think they need to hire a proofreader? “More happy” ?? Really?

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