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Demystifying the Big Apple and California; good for Creole and Hawai

Monday, December 28th 2009 - 12:41 UTC
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A life-satisfaction ranking of states of the Union holds many surprises A life-satisfaction ranking of states of the Union holds many surprises

New York and Connecticut rank at the bottom of the life-satisfaction states in the US while Hawaii and Louisiana figure as the top according to a new research by the UK University of Warwick and Hamilton College in the US which used the happiness levels of a million individual US citizens to discover which are the best and worst states in which to live in the United States.

The new research published in the journal Science on 17th December 2009 by Professor Andrew Oswald of the UK University of Warwick and Stephen Wu of Hamilton College in the US provides the first external validation of people’s self-reported levels of happiness.

“We would like to think this is a breakthrough. It provides an justification for the use of subjective well-being surveys in the design of government policies, and will be of value to future economic and clinical researchers across a variety of fields in science and social science” said Professor Oswald.

The researchers examined a 2005- 2008 Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System random sample of 1.3 million United States citizens in which life-satisfaction in each US state was measured. This provided a league table of happiness for the 50 states of the Union. The researchers decided to use the data to try to resolve one of the most significant issues facing economists and clinical scientists carrying out research into human well-being.

Researchers have to rely on people’s self declared levels of happiness – but how can one trust those self declarations?

The two researchers stumbled on a parallel approach that allowed them to do such a check. They discovered research by Stuart Gabriel and colleagues from UCLA published in 2003 which considered objective indicators for each individual State of the US such as: precipitation; temperature; wind speed; sunshine; coastal land; inland water; public land; National Parks; hazardous waste sites; environmental ‘greenness’; commuting time; violent crime; air quality; student-teacher ratio; local taxes; local spending on education and highways; cost of living.

This allowed the creation of a rank order of US states showing which should provide the happiest living experience. This was a truly external data source that could be used to check the self declared levels of happiness; Gabriel’s team had no happiness data in 2003 that could allow the check to be completed.

But Professors Oswald and Wu were able to do the first state-by-state USA happiness calculations. They then obtained Gabriel’s numbers. When the two rankings were compared, they found a close correlation between people’s subjective life-satisfaction scores and objectively estimated quality of life.

However Professor Oswald expressed caution in how some of the exact results should be interpreted – for example, for the state of Louisiana in the survey following the disruption in caused by Hurricane Katrina, but was confident that the data on most states was a true reflection of well-being levels saying:

“We have been asked a lot whether we expected that states like New York and California would do so badly in the happiness ranking. Having visited and lived in various parts of the US, I am only a little surprised. Many people think these states would be marvellous places to live in. The problem is that if too many individuals think that way, they move into those states, and the resulting congestion and house prices make it a non-fulfilling prophecy. In a way, it is like the stock market. If everyone thinks it would be great to buy stock X, that stock is generally already overvalued. Bargains in life are usually found outside the spotlight. It seems that exactly the same is true of the best places to live”.

The first twelve according to the Oswald-Wu ranking: Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida; Tennessee; Arizona; Mississippi; Montana; South Carolina; Alabama; Maine; Alaska and North Carolina.

The last twelve: New York; Connecticut; New Jersey; Michigan; Indiana; California; Illinois; Ohio; Massachusetts; Rhode Island; Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Categories: Politics, United States.

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