Friday, September 11, 2009

The well-being index

Before reading a recent Times economix blog post, I wasn't aware that Gallup has measured a Well-Being Index via telephone interview for some 20 months now.

The blog post wonders why folks aged 45-64 are consistently the least happy. To me, the more startling bivariate cut of the data is by monthly income, shown halfway down this page, although it may essentially reflect the same dynamic since income and age are tightly correlated. People earning $3,000-$3,999, or between $36K and $48K per year, are the least happy, less well off than those below them on the income distribution.

What could be going on is that monthly income measures only earnings and not transfer payments and in-kind transfers like food stamps. There has been much discussion recently about how the Census Bureau calculates poverty. But if income includes all these measures, maybe what we're seeing is the same effect of age.

Upon further look, I think the Gallup graphic is wrong, if the data in this release are correct. There, I see a monotonic relationship between income and well-being.

From the release: the Gallup-Healthways well-being index is "is comprised of six sub-indices: Life Evaluation, Emotional Health, Physical Health, Healthy Behavior, Work Environment and Basic Access. The Life Evaluation Sub-Index is partially based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale and combines the evaluation of one’s present life situation with one’s anticipated life situation five years from now. The Emotional Health Sub-Index is primarily a composite of respondents’ daily experiences, asking respondents to think about how they felt yesterday along nine dimensions. The Physical Health Sub-Index is comprised of questions related to: Body Mass Index, disease burden, sick days, physical pain, daily energy, history of disease and daily health experiences. The Healthy Behavior Sub-Index includes items measuring life style habits with established relationships to health outcomes. The Work Environment Sub-Index surveys workers on several factors to gauge their feelings and perceptions about their work environment. The Basic Access Sub-Index is based on thirteen items measuring resident’s access to food, shelter, healthcare and a safe and satisfying place to live."

That is, it does not specifically measure income, although individuals may be responding based on their income.