Income, Party and Happiness
Feb 22, 2006
This graph cited by Mahalanobis deserves closer scrutiny. Several commentators have concluded that happiness is not explained by income because the gap between Republicans and Democrats is 10% or so at each income level. Much information is obscured by this simplistic conclusion, and by using a grouped column chart.
In fact, the inherent symmetry in this observation has been sidestepped. The gap between the rich and the poor is also constant for each party affiliation. In other words, rich Americans are happier by the same degree whether they are Republicans or Democrats. What's more, the gap in happiness between the rich and the poor is about 20%, twice that between the parties.
This observation is more clearly depicted in the line chart shown on the right. The gap between the top and bottom lines is about 20% throughout the chart. By contrast, the difference between R and D is about 10% (focus on first segments of the blue lines). Thus, the story is more about income groups than about parties.
Actually, the most interesting feature in this data concerns the $30K-50K income group (the green line). The green line is the only one that is not roughly parallel to the other lines. Republicans and Independents in this income range behave like the next richer group while Democrats behave like the next poorer group. Could it be that the cutoff point for defining this income group hasn't been selected correctly? Indeed, how is this choice made?
Technical note: equal gap for each income level indicates no income-party interaction effect, which leads to the symmetry interpretation. No interaction effect does not preclude strong income effect and strong party effect. We show that the income effect is about double that of party.
I would like to point out a minor issue with your graph: the y-axis is labelled "% Happy" whereas the numbers on this axis are 0.1 0.2 0.3 ... I guess that these numbers should read 10 20 30 ...
Posted by: jerry | Feb 22, 2006 at 07:48 AM
Thanks for spotting the error. It's easy to get mixed up since in my mind 0.1 = 10%, etc.
Posted by: Kaiser | Feb 22, 2006 at 09:53 AM
Well, people generally assume that rich people are going to be happier than poor people, so even though the income effect is larger it is less newsworthy.
Also, cost of living varies throughout the US, as does the distribution of Republicans and Democrats; and people's happiness about their incomes is likely to vary by gender, which is slightly correlated with party (I believe). So I would like to see a few more equalizers before concluding that there is a straight "Party" effect.
Posted by: Barbar | Feb 22, 2006 at 01:45 PM
And a major issue with the original graph: the y-axis isn't labelled at all. In fact, neither is the x-axis.
Posted by: Tom | Feb 23, 2006 at 03:58 AM