What produces a happy society and a happy life?
The discipline of wellbeing science seeks to answer this question using empirical evidence about what makes lives more worth living. It aims to transform our ability to base our decisions on the outcomes that matter most, namely the wellbeing of us all including future generations.
Join Professor Lord (Richard) Layard and Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, co-authors of a recent book “Wellbeing: Science and Policy”, as they discuss with Professor Sir Charles Godfray, Director of the Oxford Martin School, how wellbeing can be measured, what causes it and how it can be improved.
To register to attend, either in person in Oxford or online, please visit oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/events/wellbeing.
We use novel large-scale data from Indeed, a major jobs website, to assess the relationship between workplace wellbeing and firm performance. Our measures of employee wellbeing include self reported job satisfaction, purpose, happiness, and stress, which we aggregate to over 1,600 listed companies in the United States. Using company-level employee wellbeing measures to predict firm performance, we find that wellbeing is associated with firm profitability and that companies with the highest levels of wellbeing also subsequently outperform standard benchmarks in the stock market. Overall, these descriptive results show a strong positive relationship between employee wellbeing and firm performance. We discuss a number of limitations to the analyses and point to future directions for further research.
How do people’s perceptions about when they work affect their intrinsic motivation? We find that working during non-standard work time (weekends/holidays) versus standard work time (Monday-Friday, 9-to-5) undermines people’s intrinsic motivation for their professional and academic pursuits. Working during non-standard work time decreases intrinsic motivation by causing people to consider better uses of their time. That is, people generate more upward counterfactual thoughts, which mediates the effect of work time on reduced intrinsic motivation. As a causal test of this process, increasing consideration of upward counterfactuals during standard work time reduces intrinsic motivation, whereas decreasing consideration of upward counterfactuals during non-standard work time helps employees and students maintain intrinsic motivation for their professional and academic pursuits. Overall, we identify a novel determinant of intrinsic motivation and address a real challenge many people face: How changing work schedules affect interest and enjoyment of work, with important consequences for work outcomes.
Do ‘green’ environmental concerns — such as about biodiversity, climate change, pollution — deter citizens from having children? This paper reports the first longitudinal evidence consistent with that increasingly discussed hypothesis. It follows through time a random sample of thousands of initially childless men and women in the UK. Those individuals who are committed to a green lifestyle are found to be substantially less likely to go on later to have offspring (or fewer offspring). In the later analysis we adjust statistically for a large set of potential confounders. They include people’s age, education, income, marital status, mental health, life satisfaction, optimism, and physical health. Because there might also be unobservable reasons why those who are pro-environmental may be less likely to want a child, and to try to ensure that the finding cannot be explained by selection and omitted variables, the paper explores Oster’s (2019) bounds test. The paper’s final estimated effect-size is substantial. A person entirely unconcerned about environmental behaviour is estimated to be approximately 70% more likely to go on to have a child than a deeply committed environmentalist.
This paper documents a longitudinal crisis of midlife among the inhabitants of rich nations. Yet middle-aged citizens in our datasets are close to their peak earnings, have typically experienced little or no illness, reside in some of the safest countries in the world, and live in the most prosperous era in human history. This is paradoxical and troubling. The finding is consistent, however, with the prediction—one little-known to economists—of Elliott Jaques (1965). Our analysis does not rest on elementary cross-sectional analysis. Instead, the paper uses panel and through-time data on, in total, approximately 500,000 individuals. It checks that the key results are not due to cohort effects. Nor do we rely on simple life satisfaction measures. The paper shows that there are approximately quadratic hill-shaped patterns in data on midlife suicide, sleeping problems, alcohol dependence, concentration difficulties, memory problems, intense job strain, disabling headaches, suicidal feelings, and extreme depression. We believe that the seriousness of this societal problem has not been grasped by the affluent world’s policy-makers.
What produces a happy society and a happy life? Thanks to the new science of wellbeing, we can now answer this question using state-of-the-art empirical evidence. This transforms our ability to base our decisions on the outcomes that matter most, namely the wellbeing of us all including future generations. Written by two of the world’s leading experts on the economics of wellbeing, this book shows how wellbeing can be measured, what causes it and how it can be improved. Its findings are profoundly relevant to all social sciences, including psychology, economics, politics, behavioural science and sociology. A field-defining text on a new science that aims to span the whole of human life, this will be an invaluable resource for undergraduate and graduate students, policy-makers and employers, who can apply its insights in their professional and private lives. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
The Wellbeing Research Centre of the University of Oxford conducted a study in 2019 that analysed data from 230 independent organisations across 49 industries. The findings suggest that employees’ satisfaction with their company strongly correlated with employee productivity.
Additionally, hybrid work is the equivalent of an 8% salary increase in terms of employee satisfaction, as Bloom’s findings suggest. An Oxford-Saïd Business School and BT study takes this further, quantifying happiness and its impact on productivity among content workers: a 13% increase in performance.
Prof Alex Bryson (UCL) shared compelling evidence for a widespread gender wellbeing gap at the latest of the Wellbeing Research Centre’s Seminar Series.
His research, undertaken alongside Prof David Blanchflower (Dartmouth), explores data from multiple surveys, across various countries and age groups.
Watch the full presentation on the Centre’s YouTube channel.