Books Average Previous Decade of Economic Misery

That is the new paper by Bentley, Acerbi, Ormerod, and Lampos, and here is the abstract:

For the 20th century since the Depression, we find a strong correlation between a ‘literary misery index’ derived from English language books and a moving average of the previous decade of the annual U.S. economic misery index, which is the sum of inflation and unemployment rates. We find a peak in the goodness of fit at 11 years for the moving average. The fit between the two misery indices holds when using different techniques to measure the literary misery index, and this fit is significantly better than other possible correlations with different emotion indices. To check the robustness of the results, we also analysed books written in German language and obtained very similar correlations with the German economic misery index. The results suggest that millions of books published every year average the authors’ shared economic experiences over the past decade.

Here is NYT coverage of that paper.  Here are some related papers by Bentley and co-authors, note that American English is diverging from British English by its greater use of emotional words.

For the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.


A post about Obamacare is always good for giving the ol' hornet's nest a stir. With inflation out the picture we have a single component misery index: the unemployment rate.

But there haven't been twenty centuries since the Depression.

The British are equally emotional. They just use naughty words to express themselves.

Oh fuck off.

So is this 11 year delay due to it taking that long between the idea for a book and finally getting it published? Or is this more that it takes 11 years for economic conditions to see to readers like the normal situation?

seems like a lot of these studies are borderline minutia or at least to me. I would like to see more studies on the caliber oflevitt's abortion crime link, for example. or the one about child seats being innefective. Even if the results were dubious it generated a lot of followup.


They are probably cherry picking metrics till they get the conclusion they want.

e.g. A "literary misery index" is such a malleable metric, and especially in combination with how many previous years to include in averaging, which countries too look at etc.

Eventually at some point one is almost guaranteed to reach the "economy influences authors" conclusion that one is after.

+1.5 - I think this study is simply a variation of the well known theme that during downturns and upturns the entertainment industry follows in concert with either sad or happy films, songs, literature. And this is seasonal too: during the Western hemisphere summer you'll get upbeat beach pop songs released, during fall you get scary dramas, and the like.

I'd like to know whether the turning points in the literary misery index are leading, coincident, or lagging for the real misery index.

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