For these people, money actually does equal happiness

A new study published in the American Psychological Association journal, Emotion, recently reaffirmed the timeworn correlation between happiness and escalating wealth.

The San Diego State University researchers behind the new paper intimated a robust relationship between general happiness and the top indicators of socioeconomic status—more discreetly, affluence, and education status.

This is in direct repudiation of a paper recently authored by a team of researchers at Purdue University that posited people who secured at least $95,000  a year tended to feel gratified with their lives, while those who achieved between  $60,000 to $75,000 a year were more likely to express emotional fulfillment.

Of course, the “practical and theoretical significance” of income varies significantly among populations.  For some, wealth symbolizes stability. For others, it affords opportunities to indulge in passion and hobbies. 

The co-authors of the new study, SDSU psychologists Jean TwengeTwenge and A. Bell Cooper derived their data from the 44,198 U.S. adults involved in the General Social Survey conducted between 1972 and 2016.

From the report:

“Among U.S. adults ages 30 and over in the nationally representative General Social Survey (N = 44,198), the positive correlation between socioeconomic status (SES; including income, education, and occupational prestige) and happiness grew steadily stronger between the 1970s and 2010s. Associations between income and happiness were linear, with no tapering off at higher levels of income. Between 1972 and 2016, the happiness of high-SES White adults was fairly stable, whereas the happiness of low-SES White adults steadily declined. Among Black adults, the happiness of low-SES adults was fairly stable, whereas the happiness of high-SES adults increased. ”

Money appears to be more synonymous with happiness now than it was 40 years ago. In fact, every generation attaches more existential weight to wages than the previous one.

Education proved to further influence well-being.  The happiness of white Americans who were not college-educated decreased after 2000.

However, the happiness of white Americans with a college education has remained steady in that same time frame. The happiness of Black Americans with no college education has remained steady, while the happiness of Black Americans with a college education has increased.

“I was surprised that income was so strongly related to happiness and that happiness didn’t plateau at higher levels of income,” explained one of the report’s co-authors, . “More money seems to equal more happiness, even after basic needs are met.”

“We’re not exactly sure why there’s a growing divide in happiness, but it might be because of growing income inequality. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” said Twenge, who authored the book iGen on generational trends.

Economic trends often dictate the personality of a nation. A deepening wedge between classes makes upward mobility more remote for lower-class citizens.

Consequently, members of this demographic are less incentivized to start families or even begin serious relationships: two factors studied to positively impact happiness rates.

“The happiness advantage favoring high-SES adults has expanded over the decades. Age–period–cohort analyses based on hierarchical linear modeling demonstrate that this effect is primarily caused by time period rather than by birth cohort or age,” the authors conclude.