Sunday, July 18, 2004

They say money can't buy happiness. But if it could...

Two economists, apparently tired of letting those psychology prima donnas grab all of the juicy sex headlines, have taken it upon themselves to study the economics of sex and happiness. According to the New York Times:
In their study ["Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study"], Mr. [Andrew J.] Oswald and Mr. [David G.] Blanchflower analyzed the self-reported sexual activity and levels of happiness of more than 16,000 American adults who participated in a number of social surveys since the early 1990's. (Happiness is notoriously difficult to define, and the surveys make no attempt to do so; the respondents simply record how happy they believe themselves to be on a sliding scale.) By factoring out the measurable effects of other life events, the study revealed, to no one's surprise, that, "The more sex, the happier the person."

Furthermore, the economists compared the levels of happiness produced by a vigorous sex life with other activities whose economic values had been calculated in prior research, allowing them to impute, in dollars, how much happiness sex was worth. They also estimated that increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse from once a month to at least once a week provided as much happiness as putting $50,000 in the bank.

A lasting marriage, by comparison, offers about $100,000 worth of happiness a year -- that is, on average, a single person would need to receive $100,000 annually to be as happy as a married person with the same education, job status and other characteristics. Divorce, on the other hand, imposes an emotional toll of about $66,000 a year, though there may be a short-term economic gain from the immediate relief provided by leaving your spouse.

So, the way I figure it, that means that happily married folks should have to pay more income taxes!

Oswald acknowleges that there are some limitations to his statistical methodology, but he says it's difficult to carry out controlled experiments in the field. "It would be great to assign Mr. and Mrs. X a certain amount of sexual activity and a certain amount of income, and see how it impacts their happiness," he said. "But I think it would be hard to get government funding."

Here's the actual study (PDF), but be warned that it has, like, numbers and stuff! ;-) The NY Times story is now stuck behind their paid archive, but you can read a similar account over here.

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