Inequality of happiness in the U.S.: 1972-2010

Indranil Dutta, James Foster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well accepted that a country's GDP may not fully reflect its level of well-being. In recent years, happiness has emerged as an alternative indicator of well-being, and research has mainly focused on determining the level of happiness. While it is important to look at the level, the distribution of happiness is also a salient aspect in any evaluation of inequality. There has been a growing interest in the distribution of happiness, although the ordinal nature of the data makes the use of standard inequality measures problematic. Our paper contributes to the literature by exploring the distributions for the U.S. from 1972 to 2010. Based on new methods developed for ordinal data, we are able to overcome the problems associated with ordinality and obtain unambiguous rankings of happiness distributions. We also compute the level of happiness inequality using existing measures based on median centred approaches. Further, we decompose the median based inequality measures of happiness by gender, race, and region. © 2012 International Association for Research in Income and Wealth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-415
Number of pages22
JournalReview of Income and Wealth
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • Dominance
  • Happiness
  • Inequality
  • Median inequality
  • Scale independence


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