Charting the Relationship Between Wealth and Happiness, by Country [VC]

September 8, 2022 By Nick Routley

Data visualization showing the relationship between wealth and happiness around the world

The Relationship Between Wealth and Happiness, by Country

Throughout history, the pursuit of happiness has been a preoccupation of humankind.

Of course, we humans are not just content with measuring our own happiness, but also our happiness in relation to the people around us—and even other people around the world. The annual World Happiness Report, which uses global survey data to report how people evaluate their own lives in more than 150 countries, helps us do just that.

The factors that contribute to happiness are as subjective and specific as the billions of humans they influence, but there are a few that have continued to resonate over time. Family. Love. Purpose. Wealth. The first three examples are tough to measure, but the latter can be analyzed in a data-driven way.

Does money really buy happiness? Let’s find out.

Regional and Country-Level Observations

While many of the countries follow an obvious trend (more wealth = more happiness), there are nuances and outliers worth exploring.

  • In Latin America, people self-report more happiness than the trend between wealth and happiness would predict.
  • On the flip side, many nations in the Middle East report slightly less happiness than levels of wealth would predict.
  • Political turmoil, an economic crisis, and the devastating explosion in Beirut have resulted in Lebanon scoring far worse than would be expected. Over the past decade, the country’s score has fallen by nearly two full points.
  • Hong Kong has seen its happiness score sink for years now. Inequality, protests, instability, and now COVID-19 outbreaks have placed the region in an unusual zone on the chart: rich and unhappy.

Examining Inequality and Happiness

We’ve looked at the relationship between wealth and happiness between countries, but what about within countries?

The Gini Coefficient is a tool that allows us to do just that. This measure looks at income distribution across a population, and applies a score to that population. Simply put, a score of 0 would be “perfect equality”, and 1 would be “perfect inequality” (i.e. an individual or group of recipients is receiving the entire income distribution).

Combined with the same happiness scale as before, this is how countries shape up.

Data visualization showing the relationship between inequality and happiness around the world

The Bottom Line

People have been seeking understanding on happiness for millennia now, and it’s unlikely that slicing and dicing datasets will crack the code. Still though, much like the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of understanding is human nature.

And, in more concrete terms, the more policymakers and the public understand the link between wealth and happiness, the more likely we can shape societies that give us a better chance at living a happy life.

Where does this data come from?

SourceCredit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2021World Happiness Report 2022World Bank

Reprinted with permission