Research Papers

The Asymmetric Experience of Positive and Negative Economic Growth: Global Evidence Using Subjective Well-Being Data

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, George Ward, 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

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

George Ward

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

(Un)Happiness and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections

George Ward, 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: Financial Times, The Hill (op-ed), Character & Context (SPSP)

Does Employee Happiness Have an Impact on Productivity?

Clément Bellet, Jan-Emmanuel de Neve, and George Ward

Revise & Resubmit at Management Science

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.

[working paper]

Media: The Economist

Workplace Happiness and Employee Recruitment: Evidence From a Field Experiment

George Ward (Job Market Paper)

Abstract: For 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.

[working paper]coming soon!

The Role of Negative Affect in Shaping Populist Support: Converging Evidence from the Field

George Ward, Andrew Schwartz, Salvatore Giorgi, Jochen Menges, and Sandra Matz

Reject & Resubmit at Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

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.

(under review - paper available on request)

Work Centrality and the Relationship Between Stress and (Un)Happiness

George Ward, 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]

Book Chapters

What Makes for a Good Job? Evidence Using Subjective Wellbeing Data

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

Christian Krekel, George Ward, and Jan-Emmanuel de Neve

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 Behaviour

2019, UN World Happiness Report

Happiness at Work

2017, UN World Happiness Report

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and George Ward

[pdf] [appendix] Media: Harvard Business Review

Work and Wellbeing during COVID-19: Impact, Inequalities, Resilience, and the Future of Work

2021, UN World Happiness Report

Maria Cotofan, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Marta Golin, Micah Kaats, and George Ward