Happier adolescents 'likely to have higher income' as adults

 Academic research finds that a happy childhood is linked to increased income and success in later life.

Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of University College London and Professor Andrew Oswald of Warwick University examined the earliest years of thousands of randomly sampled people and found that, even when other factors were taken into account, their happiness levels when young clearly determined the likelihood of whether they would go on to enjoy higher earnings later in life.

The economists' research goes some way to suggesting how happiness may influence income. They suggest that people who have happier childhoods are more likely to obtain a degree and a job, have higher degrees of optimism and extraversion, and less neuroticism.

Their research also suggests that the relationship between happiness and money is far more complex than has been appreciated, claiming that that happiness makes people earn more, possibly because happier people are more productive and are promoted faster.

The pair's work, the first in-depth investigation into the extent to which happiness is a predictor of income a decade later on, draws on the "life satisfaction" levels of a large sample of adolescents and young adults in America and tracks this against their levels of income later in life.

Their analysis shows that a one-point increase in life satisfaction (on a scale of five) at the age of 22 is associated with almost $2,000 of higher earnings per annum by the age of 29.

Their study of 90,000 people, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at the University of Cambridge, speculates that one reason for the causal link may be that people with sunny dispositions are more likely to get a degree, get hired and get promoted.

They compare siblings' data to show that happier siblings tend to grow up to earn higher levels of income. Their results, which consider other factors such as education, physical health, genetic variation, IQ, self-esteem and current happiness, show that the effect of individual happiness on income is greater than the widely acknowledged influence of income on happiness.

"These findings have important implications for academics, policy-makers and the general public," they write. " For academics, these results reveal the strong possibility for reverse causality between income and happiness – a relationship that most have assumed unidirectional and causal."

Their branch of economics – known as hedonics – is becoming increasingly popular with politicians and policy-makers.

They claim that their work highlights the importance of promoting general well-being, "not just because happiness is what the general population aspires to (instead of GDP), but also for its productive effects – ie, it may pay off to focus policy on maximising happiness and minimising suffering".

The academics' findings also have important implications for parents. The pair write: "The emotional well-being of children and adolescents is key to their future success, and this research provides yet another reason for the need to create an emotionally healthy home environment.

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