Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Of happiness and despair we have multiple measures

About a year ago, Andrew Oswald and Stephen Wu published some research on state differences in people's satisfaction with their lives.  The data were obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System, a large telphone survey of the public.  New York came in last, followed by Indiana, Connecticut, and New Jersey.  The state rankings, especially the low ranking of the tri-state area, got some attention in the media

The BRFSS also includes some other questions about "well-being."  One was how often you felt "worried, tense, or anxious" and another was about feeling "sad, blue, or depressed."  These questions were asked in thirty-three of the states.  The state rankings on the two questions were quite similar (a correlation of 0.78), so I combined them into a total of days felt bad.  The top-ranked states on satisfaction and (fewest) days felt bad:

Satisfaction      Felt Bad

Louisiana         Louisiana  
Alabama           Hawaii  
Mississippi*      North Dakota  
Hawaii            Alaska 
South Carolina    Iowa   
Florida*          Arizona  
Arizona           North Carolina  
Montana*          Nebraska   
Texas*            Wisconsin  
Maine*            Minnesota  

and bringing up the rear, we have:

Pennsylvania*    Georgia
California       New Jersey
Illinois*        Connecticut
Rhode Island     Ohio
Ohio             District of Columbia
Michigan*        Indiana
New Jersey       Oklahoma
Connecticut      Tennessee
Indiana          Alabama
New York         Kentucky

Asterisks indicate the the "worried, tense, or anxious" and "sad, blue, or depresssed" questions were not asked in that state. 

There three states that did well in both satisfaction and days felt bad (Louisiana, Hawaii, and Arizona), and four that did badly in both (New Jersey, Connecticut, Indiana, and Ohio).   But Alabama was among the best in satisfaction and among the worst in days felt bad.  South Carolina was among the top ten in satisfaction, but about average in days felt bad, while New York and Rhode Island were near the bottom in satisfaction, but slightly better than average in days felt bad. 

When you consider individual people, there's a high correlation between days felt bad and overall satisfaction--by and large, people who feel bad are dissatisfied people.  But among states, the correlation is much weaker (about 0.3).  That's unusual--"ecological" correlations are usually much higher than individual-level correlations.  

1 comment:

  1. I blame LeBron James for Ohio being on the second list.