Comparing Happiness across the World: Does Culture Matter?

Comparing Happiness across the World: Does Culture Matter? Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Carrie Exton et al. November 5, 2015.

The issue of cultural bias in subjective well-being data is often raised, but rarely well-documented. The paper reviews the main barriers to interpreting national differences in subjective well-being, noting the challenge of distinguishing between cultural bias and cultural impact. Several methods are then used to attempt to quantify the role of culture in subjective well-being, drawing on multiple waves of the Gallup World Poll, conducted in over 150 countries and territories. The paper shows that, although life circumstances explain well the overall pattern of cross-country variation in subjective well-being, a gap is observed for some countries. Culture may account for some 20% of the country-specific unexplained variance. This combined effect of “cultural impact” and “cultural bias” is small when compared to the role of objective life circumstances in explaining subjective well-being outcomes. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 117 pages, 3.25 MB].

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