[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: Sex May Be Happiness, but Wealth
Isn' t Sexiness
jm at jmason.org
Sun Jul 11 20:25:49 PDT 2004
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khare at alumni.caltech.edu writes:
> The authors say their study is first rigorous econometric
> analysis on the topic, and it that the received wisdom may
> require some revision. As the paper states: "Money does
> seem to seem to buy greater happiness. But it does not buy
> more sex."
Happiness! This has been getting a lot of research lately, it seems. See
also "subjective well-being"... here's a few good bits:
Q: Does it help to be well-off?
A: Every study that's ever been done on this has always found that
happiness increases with income, but in the West the effect is always a
small one. Elsewhere, among slum dwellers in India, for example, the
effect is much more substantial. There's quite a difference between
making $1 and $5 a day--for one thing, it dictates whether you get to
eat that day. In the US, too, it's much more likely that a poor person
will be unhappy. We studied people from the Forbes list who were worth
more than $100 million. Most were slightly happier than the average
And this one is a *fantastic* article, from New Scientist in October
In the US, satisfaction comes from personal success, self-expression,
pride, a high sense of self-esteem and a distinct sense of self. In
Japan, on the other hand, it comes from fulfilling the expectations of
your family, meeting your social responsibilities, self-discipline,
cooperation and friendliness. So while in the US it is perfectly
appropriate to pursue your own happiness, in Japan you are more likely
to find happiness by not directly pursuing it. .....
There is plenty more about national happiness levels that has
researchers scratching their heads. One of the most significant
observations is that in industrialised nations, average happiness has
remained virtually static since the second world war, despite a
considerable rise in average income . The exception is Denmark, where
people have become more satisfied with life over the past 30 years - no
one is quite sure why.
A growing number of researchers are putting the static trend down to
consumerism. Survey after survey has shown that the desire for material
goods, which has increased hand in hand with average income, is a
One study, by Tim Kasser at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, found
that young adults who focus on money, image and fame tend to be more
depressed, have less enthusiasm for life and suffer more physical
symptoms such as headaches and sore throats than others (The High Price
of Materialism, MIT Press, 2002). Kasser believes that people tend to
embrace material values when they are feeling insecure (retail therapy,
anyone?). "Advertisements have become more sophisticated," says Kasser.
"They try to tie their message to people's psychological needs. But it
is a false link. It is toxic."
Also -- beautiful people make the world unhappier:
> Mr. Blanchflower and Mr. Oswald are among the leaders in
> the fast-growing field of "happiness economics," which
> applies econometric techniques, traditionally limited to
> quantifiable matters like wage rates, to the amorphous
> arena of human emotion. Areas of research include how
> happiness is affected by democracy (it increases individual
> happiness), or new cigarette taxes (smokers, oddly, become
> In their study, Mr. Oswald and Mr. Blanchflower analyzed
> the self-reported sexual activity and levels of happiness
> of more than 16,000 American adults who participated in a
> number of social surveys since the early 1990's. (Happiness
> is notoriously difficult to define, and the surveys make no
> attempt to do so; the respondents simply record how happy
> they believe themselves to be on a sliding scale.) By
> factoring out the measurable effects of other life events,
> the study revealed, to no one's surprise, that, "The more
> sex, the happier the person."
> Furthermore, the economists compared the levels of
> happiness produced by a vigorous sex life with other
> activities whose economic values had been calculated in
> prior research, allowing them to impute, in dollars, how
> much happiness sex was worth. They also estimated that
> increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse from once a
> month to at least once a week provided as much happiness as
> putting $50,000 in the bank.
> A lasting marriage, by comparison, offers about $100,000
> worth of happiness a year - that is, on average, a single
> person would need to receive $100,000 annually to be as
> happy as a married person with the same education, job
> status and other characteristics. Divorce, on the other
> hand, imposes an emotional toll of about $66,000 a year,
> though there may be a short-term economic gain from the
> immediate relief provided by leaving your spouse.
> Possibly the least expected finding of the paper, said Mr.
> Oswald, was that in general, "Greater income does not buy
> more sex, nor sexual partners."
> "That was surprising to us as economists," Mr. Oswald
> added, "because by and large, we think money can buy
> anything." (The study found that men who paid a prostitute
> for sex reported they were considerably less happy.)
> But the economists' study struck at a number of
> conventionally accepted notions. "The conservative,
> pro-marriage lobby will be delighted to read our paper,"
> Mr. Oswald said. "The 'Sex and the City' view of the world
> is falsified by the data."
> Married people, he said, were shown to have about 30
> percent more sex than their single peers, and were found,
> at least statistically speaking, to be significantly
> Likewise, Mr. Oswald said, the gay and lesbian community
> would be happy with the work. The data showed that the
> amount of happiness obtained from "being in a gay
> relationship is almost identical to being in a heterosexual
> one" and that regardless of sexual orientation, the
> "happiness-maximizing" number of partners is one. Celibacy
> and very low levels of sexual activity, the study found,
> had a "statistically indistinguishable" effect on
> Not everyone is convinced one can put an accurate price tag
> on sex - or at least its emotional payoff. "Does it matter
> if it is good sex or bad sex? To me that is of critical
> importance," said Leonore Tiefer, a clinical therapist and
> associate professor of psychiatry at the New York
> University School of Medicine.
> Then there is the problem of distinguishing cause from
> effect. "Is your sex life good because you are seeing life
> through rose-colored glasses?" asked Edward O. Laumann, a
> University of Chicago sociology professor who directed the
> 1994 National Health and Social Life Survey, a landmark
> study on sexual attitudes and behaviors in the United
> States. "Or is your happiness a result of your sex life?"
> And what about the lurking variable of love?
> Mr. Oswald concedes the limitations of his statistical
> analysis. "All we can do is paint outlines of the numbers,"
> he said. "We can't hope to pick up a myriad of details."
> However, he said a statistical approach can be useful in
> flushing out evidence that would be difficult to otherwise
> obtain - especially when it comes to a topic like sex,
> where there is a strong incentive to lie.
> He said he would like to carry out more highly detailed,
> longitudinal and cross-culture studies, but behavioral lab
> experiments remain out of the question now. "It would be
> great to assign Mr. and Mrs. X a certain amount of sexual
> activity and a certain amount of income, and see how it
> impacts their happiness," he said. "But I think it would be
> hard to get government funding."
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