Job Satisfaction Makes People Happier than Marriage and Children

April 6, 2020

This post looks at what makes people the most happy. I take data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on happiness and look at the likelihood of happiness given job satisfaction, being married, or having children. For the happiness measure, I define happy as those who responded that they were very happy or pretty happy. Figure 1, below, shows a histogram, or frequency tabulation, of average happiness by year. The normal density curve overlaid on the histogram shows that happiness is approximately normally distributed. (For a discussion of happiness as a bell curve, see my earlier blog post https://helenhsi.com/2019/09/22/your-happiness-is-like-your-height/.)

Figure 1. Histogram of Average Happiness by Year, Overlaid with a Normal Density Curve

Turning first to job satisfaction, I coded a person as satisfied if he responded very satisfied or moderately satisfied to the question: “On the whole, how satisfied are you with the work you do?” I ran a logistic regression of happiness on job satisfaction and found that those who are satisfied with their work are 3.72 times as happy as those who are not satisfied with their work. The result is very significant, which means it is unlikely to be due to chance.

Turning next to marriage, I coded a person as married if they are currently married, as opposed to widowed, divorced, or separated. Again, I ran a logistic regression of happiness on married. I found that married people are 2.82 times as happy as those who are not currently married.

Next, I examine the impact of having children on happiness. I coded a person as either having children–regardless of the number of children–or not having children. The result of the logistic regression was positive, but highly insignificant–at 0.969.

Finally I look at the interaction of being married and having children on happiness. I find that the impact of children depends on the presence of marriage. The odds of happiness for those who are married with children are 1.29 times higher than the no marriage scenario.

This short analysis shows that job satisfaction has the highest impact on happiness. This is followed by marriage. Having children does not lead to happiness by itself, but when interacted with marriage, it does significantly predict happiness.

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