Pain and unhappiness in the USA and lessons for India


Do we assume there is no unhappiness and pain in the USA? Blanchflower and Oswald in their classic review article in the Journal of Economic Literature (June 2019) unfold the truth considering the data from 1972 to 2016 drawing results from Carol Graham’s study. With 76% of the race being white and 13% black, the inequalities in different aspects are the cause of unhappiness. 

Pessimism among American Whites

Mental well-being is relatively more unequal. American white people, are more pessimistic than black Americans, who are relatively optimistic regarding life in the future. Hope is what shapes willingness to invest and plan and obviously those unhappy seldom invest for their long-term well-being. Thus, happiness is the key for income, savings, investment and well-being.

Suicide rate – reflection of how horrible is life 

It is crucial to note that world over around 7,93,823 commit suicide and this is higher than the death due to Malaria, Parkinson disease, Nutritional deficiencies, Protein-energy malnutrition, Alcohol use disorders, drug use disorders, Terrorism and Natural disasters. In India, around 22 out of a lakh population commit suicide, while in the US 10.7 commit suicide out of a lakh population. Even though the per capita income in the US is about 25 times higher than that of India’s per capita income, the suicide rate is 50% that of India. Thus, extent of per capita income alone cannot reduce suicide rate. 

If suicide is a reflection of how horrible life is and also an indicator of the extent of unhappiness, it is crucial to note that annually about 45,000 Americans commit suicide. The suicide rate of black males is 33% of that of white males. Thus, Whites are at higher risk of suicide than Blacks. 

Depression, anxiety, high in the US

Even with not so favorable health indicators compared with white Americans, Black Americans are faring better in mental health than White Americans. Depression, anxiety, and suicides are relatively more common in Whites than Blacks. Considering income distribution, the richest 10% of working fulltime Americans eke six times the income of the bottom 10% of workers fulltime. Can such a wide disparity be a sign of happiness?  It is reported that marriage offers 100,000 USD a year worth of extra happiness, which is 3 times the per capita income of $34,103. Thus, in order towards a happy human being, income alone is not sufficient.

Americans gradually becoming less happy

Even with no cardinal (dominant) measure of human happiness, considering the data from 1972 to 2016, Americans are gradually becoming less happy. With a survey of 52000 individuals from different countries, considering measure of bodily pain as the dependent variable in probit regression, 34% of Americans indicated high-pain indicating that they experience bodily aches and pains very often or often.  Americans suffer relatively in more pain than citizens of advanced, and even not-so-advanced, countries. Americans are in more pain than anyone else.

Poor suffer more than the rich

The poor in the US are reportedly suffering from higher levels of stress, pain and lower life satisfaction compared with the rich. The poor in the US are also on lower subjective well-being compared with Latin America. The satisfaction of life of people gets reduced if they live in areas with high income inequality.

Americans in midlife have several psychological difficulties. Happiness and financial-satisfaction levels of Americans with relatively low education are lower than with high level of education. And in addition, the gaps in well-being have widened since the 1970s contributing to increasing psychological inequality in the US. While the happiness of white Americans is falling since 1970s, black Americans are becoming relatively happier. The increased relative happiness of black Americans is due to factors other than income.

The average cost of divorce

The average cost of divorce in the US which takes around one to one and half years for a decision, is around 13,000 USD with attorney fees ranging from USD 100 per hour to USD 400 per hour. With a divorce rate of 40 % to 50%, if marriage brings about 100,000 USD a year worth of extra happiness, then how to understand what brings happiness! 

What India learnt from developed countries?

Prominently, India learned the breakage of joint family system which has serious implications on income distribution, empathy, social well being and social capital of the country. For example, with extended family or joint family, the various activities in a joint family system used to be taken care by relatives keeping insurance costs low and family well being and welfare high. However, with the gradual dilution of joint family system, the costs of individual independent families increased along with increasing (life and health) insurance costs. Even to this day many well educated, retired, do not even possess adequate health insurance coverage and hence end up paying huge hospital bills due to terminal hospitalization.

How GDP, HDI can measure happiness?

As long as we continue to measure a country’s happiness using GDP, HDI which use life expectancy at birth as reflective of long and healthy life, years of schooling to reflect knowledge, and Gross National Income per capita (PPP) to reflect standard of living, measurement of happiness is utopian. The Gross National Happiness Index devised by King of Bhutan includes psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.  Thus, it is crucial to also consider the social capital parameters as also indicative of happiness. India tops better than many developed countries by considering social capital.  

Researcher Carol Graham notes “My personal hope is that the metrics that I have used to assess the state of the American Dream can play a role in restoring the pursuit of happiness for all.” It is crucial to note the lives of human beings will be better understood by the systematic study of their feelings and not mere quantifiable measures of precipitate incomes, precipitate expenditures.  

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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