Hello: I am a Junior Research Fellow in Economics at Somerville College, University of Oxford. I completed my Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I was based at the Sloan School of Management.  Please feel free to get in touch.

Email: george.ward@economics.ox.ac.uk

Office: L4, Somerville College, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX26HD

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Journal Articles & Working Papers

Does Employee Happiness Have an Impact on Productivity? (with Clément Bellet and Jan-Emmanuel de Neve)

Management Science, Early Access

Abstract: This article provides evidence from a natural experiment on the relationship between employee affect and productivity. We link highly detailed administrative data on the performance of all telesales workers at British Telecom with survey reports of employee happiness we collected on a weekly basis. We leverage variation in the interaction between a worker’s access to windows while at work and the presence of gloomy or bright weather outside of each call center, in order to derive quasi-experimental estimates for the causal effect of happiness on productivity. We find a strong effect of happiness on sales. This effect is driven by changes in labor productivity – largely through workers converting more calls into sales, and to a lesser extent by making more calls per hour and adhering more closely to their schedule. We find no effects of happiness on various measures of high-frequency labor supply such as attendance and break-taking.

[pdf] [supplementary materials][replication materials][working paper]

Media: The Economist, Financial Times

The Asymmetric Experience of Positive and Negative Economic Growth: Global Evidence Using Subjective Well-Being Data (with Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Femke De Keulenaer, Bert Van Landeghem, Georgios Kavetsos, and Mike Norton)

Review of Economics and Statistics, 2018, 100(2): 362–375

Abstract: Are individuals more sensitive to losses than gains in terms of economic growth? We find that measures of subjective well-being are more than twice as sensitive to negative as compared to positive economic growth. We use Gallup World Poll data from over 150 countries, BRFSS data on 2.3 million U.S. respondents, and Eurobarometer data that cover multiple business cycles over four decades. This research provides a new perspective on the welfare cost of business cycles, with implications for growth policy and the nature of the long-run relationship between GDP and subjective well-being.

[pdf] [online appendix] [replication files]

Media: Financial Times, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review

Workplace Happiness and Job Search Behavior: Evidence From a Field Experiment 

AbstractFor over a century, organizational researchers and practitioners alike have been interested in the role played by employee happiness in shaping workplace performance. Whereas prior work has focused on the potential effects of happiness on productivity and retention, in this paper, I study the effects of workplace happiness on a firm's ability to compete in the labor market and attract workers. I provide evidence from a field experiment involving over 23 million job seekers on a large online jobs platform in the USA, in which treated users were shown aggregated information about the happiness of incumbent workers at over 20,000 of the companies to which they were considering applying. I provide experimental evidence that providing information about others' happiness increases application selectivity, with treated users redirecting applications away from companies with low levels of worker happiness to happier ones. These effects on labor supply are driven largely by job seekers "screening out" low happiness firms from their job search, a finding that is replicated in subsequent field experiments on the platform in Canada and the UK.  Using a discrete choice experiment embedded in a follow-up survey of a representative sample of the US labor force, I find consistent evidence that people value workplace happiness and are willing to trade off salary to work at happier companies. Taken together, the findings suggest that people are motivated to work at happier firms and, ultimately, that employers face incentives to invest in organizational and management practices that are conducive to worker happiness.

[MIT Sloan Working Paper 6607-22]

Working Culture: Work Centrality Shapes the Relationship Between Stress and (Un)Happiness (with Hanne Collins, Mike Norton, and Ashley Whillans)

Abstract: While global wealth has risen over the past few decades, this has not translated into a less stressful life for most people. In fact, stress has risen for people worldwide. Across six studiesincluding large-scale survey data from over 150 countrieswe show that the typically observed negative association between stress and unhappiness depends critically upon work centrality, which we think of as the extent to which individuals, societies, and cultures value productive work as a good in itself.  Individuals and societies that place a strong intrinsic value on work are better able to weather higher levels of stress without a corresponding negative impact on their overall happiness, a find that emphasizes the importance of the "psychological fit" between actions and values in shaping subjective well-being. Using large-scale time-use data, we show that the moderating role of work values can be largely explained by the extent to which these values shape how enjoyable leisure activities are, rather than how they affect people’s experience of work-related activities themselves.

[working paper]

We Don't Need No Education: Will more schooling make you happier at work?

Abstract: This paper investigates the causal link between years of schooling in adolescence and workplace subjective wellbeing in subsequent adulthood. I use a law change in the United Kingdom in 1972, which raised the minimum age at which teenagers were allowed to leave education from 15 to 16 years old, in order to estimate the effect of an additional year of schooling on job satisfaction. In line with existing literature, I find a positive effect on income, but I show evidence of a negative effect of education on job satisfaction for those affected by the law change. In order to help understand this, I estimate the effect of education on various sub-dimensions of workplace satisfaction: while education raises respondents' satisfaction with their pay and job security, it has a negative effect on satisfaction with the job content itself. For cohorts receiving the additional education, this evidence suggests that it likely increases people's reference points and expectations, which are not ultimately matched in the labor market. 

[in progress]

(Un)Happiness and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections (with Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Lyle Ungar, and Johannes Eichstaedt)

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2021, 120(2), 370–383

Abstract: A rapidly growing literature has attempted to explain Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as a result of a wide variety of differences in individual characteristics, attitudes, and social processes. We propose that the economic and psychological processes previously established have in common that they generated or electorally capitalized on unhappiness in the electorate, which emerges as a powerful high-level predictor of the 2016 electoral outcome. Drawing on a large dataset covering over 2 million individual surveys, which we aggregated to the county level, we find that low levels of evaluative, experienced, and eudaemonic subjective well-being (SWB) are strongly predictive of Trump’s victory, accounting for an extensive list of demographic, ideological, and socioeconomic covariates and robustness checks. County-level future life evaluation alone correlates with the Trump vote share over Republican baselines at r = −.78 in the raw data, a magnitude rarely seen in the social sciences. We show similar findings when examining the association between individual-level life satisfaction and Trump voting. Low levels of SWB also predict anti-incumbent voting at the 2012 election, both at the county and individual level. The findings suggest that SWB is a powerful high-level marker of (dis)content and that SWB should be routinely considered alongside economic explanations of electoral choice.

[pdf] [online appendix] [replication files]

Media: New York Times, Financial Times,  El Mundo, The Hill (op-ed), Character & Context (SPSP)

Happiness and Voting: Evidence from Four Decades of Elections in Europe

American Journal of Political Science, 2020, 64(3): 504-518 

Abstract: There is a growing interest among policy makers in the use of subjective well-being (or “happiness”) data to measure societal progress, as well as to inform and evaluate public policy. Yet despite a sharp rise in the supply of well-being-based policymaking, it remains unclear whether there is any electoral demand for it. In this article, I study a long-run panel of general elections in Europe and find that well-being is a strong predictor of election results. National measures of subjective well-being are able to explain more of the variance in governing party vote share than standard macroeconomic indicators typically used in the economic voting literature. Consistent results are found at the individual level when considering subjective well-being and voting intentions, both in cross-sectional and panel analyses.

[pdf] [online appendix] [replication files] [old version]

Media: BBC News (TV), BBC News, The Times, Prospect, The Economist, HuffPost, CNN, New York Times

The Role of Negative Affect in Shaping Populist Support: Converging Evidence from the Field (with Andrew Schwartz, Salvatore Giorgi, Jochen Menges, and Sandra Matz)

Abstract:  The past two decades have witnessed a substantial rise in support for populist parties and causes. Building on a theoretical framework suggesting an elective affinity between negative affect and the demand for populism, we follow a multi-modal, multi-method approach to investigate the empirical foundations of this association. Across four studies, we demonstrate that negative affectmeasured via self-reports as well as automated text analyses of over 2 billion Tweetspredicts i) individual-level populist attitudes in survey data (Studies 1a and 1b), ii) populist party vote shares at general elections longitudinally in European countries (Study 2), iii) area-level Brexit voting in the 2016 UK referendum (Study 3) and iv) county-level vote shares for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections (Studies 4a and 4b).  Across all data sources and measures, we find that negative affectboth in the form of general sentiment and discrete emotionsis predictive of populist beliefs and voting. In line with our theoretical framework, the only exception to this is for populist politicians who are already in power. Like other incumbents, governing populists do not benefit electorally when their constituents continue to experience negative affect after they have been elected.

[working paper]


The Origins of Happiness: The Science of Well-Being over the Life Course

(with Andrew E. Clark, Sarah Flèche, Richard Layard, Nattavudh Powdthavee)

Princeton University Press


What makes people happy? Why should governments care about people’s well-being? How would policy change if well-being were the main objective? The Origins of Happiness seeks to revolutionize how we think about human priorities and to promote public policy changes that are based on what really matters to people. Drawing on a uniquely comprehensive range of evidence from longitudinal data on over one hundred thousand individuals in Britain, the United States, Australia, and Germany, the authors consider the key factors that affect human well-being. The Origins of Happiness offers all of us a new vision for how we might become more healthy and happy.

[Read the Introduction][PUP] [vox column] [WHR summary] [online appendix] [replication files][jstor version]

Selected Media

 Financial Times, FT Editorial, Guardian, Independent, BBC News, Business Insider, Newsweek, HuffPost, Vice, Le Figaro, Folha de S Paolo, WBUR, Telegraph, Vanity Fair, Grazia, The Conversation (op-ed)


"Rooted in the best-available evidence for each stage in life, The Origins of Happiness provides an ambitious and comprehensive analysis of what leads to a satisfying life, from childhood to old age."Alan Krueger, Princeton University

"The Origins of Happiness is a wonderful book. It presents a new look at what causes human well-being, and carefully analyzes the policies and programs that can enhance it."Ed Diener, coauthor of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth

"If policymakers want to improve lives, it is important to understand how people feel―and why. This book charts new territory, providing the first map of the long-term drivers of people's happiness."Martine Durand, chief statistician, OECD

"This work is a must-read for the academic, policymaker, and informed citizen alike."―Carol Graham, author of Happiness for All?

Book Chapters & Other Papers

What Makes for a Good Job? Evidence Using Subjective Wellbeing Data (with Christian Krekel and Jan-Emmanuel de Neve)

in M. Rojas (Ed.), The Economics of Happiness, Springer, 2019, pp. 241-268 

Abstract: We study what makes for a good job, by looking at which workplace characteristics are conducive or detrimental to job satisfaction. Using data from 37 countries around the world in the 2015 Work Orientations module of the International Social Survey Programme, we find that having an interesting job and good relationships at work, especially with management, are the strongest positive predictors of how satisfied employees are with their jobs, along with wages. Stressful or dangerous jobs, as well as those that interfere with family life, have the strongest negative correlation with job satisfaction. We discuss implications for firms and other organizations as well as for public policy-makers, and point toward future avenues for research in the area.

[online appendix & replication files]

Happiness and Voting Behavior: What we know and future directions

in J. Sachs, J. Helliwell, & R. Layard (Eds.), UN World Happiness Report , 2019

Does Work Make You Happy? (with Jan-Emmanuel De Neve)

Harvard Business Review [online], 2017

Happiness at Work (with Jan-Emmanuel De Neve)

in J. Sachs, J. Helliwell, & R. Layard (Eds.), UN World Happiness Report, 2017