- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Money can buy happiness — as long as you’re richer than your friends, researchers say.

Although higher incomes generally are associated with higher levels of happiness, relative income (compared with members of one’s own age group) is more important than absolute income, researchers Glenn Firebaugh and Laura Tach found.

Analyzing 30 years of data from the General Social Survey, the researchers found that physical health was the best single predictor of happiness, followed by income, education and marital status. But the finding that relative income is a major factor in happiness has troubling consequences, says Mr. Firebaugh, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University.

“If income effects are entirely relative, then continued income growth in rich countries today is irrelevant to how happy people are on the whole,” Mr. Firebaugh said of the research, which is to be presented at a conference this weekend. “Rather than promoting overall happiness, continued income growth could promote an ongoing consumption race where individuals consume more and more just to maintain a constant level of happiness.”

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