Thursday, 3 December 2015

Do people maximise their well-being?

As a followup to the last posting on Coase v. Becker on utility theory I came across this new working paper by Marc Fleurbaey and Hannes Schwandt which asks Do People Seek to Maximize Their Subjective Well-Being?

The abstract reads,
In a new survey we ask respondents, after a standard Subjective Well-Being (SWB) question, if they can think of changes in their lives that would improve their SWB score. If the SWB score is just one argument among others in the respondents’ goals in life, they should easily find ways to improve it, at the expense of other dimensions they care about. Our results suggest that close to 90% of the respondents actually seek to maximize their SWB. The life satisfaction question appears the best contender as the “maximand” in the contest, before the ladder-of-life question and felt happiness. Among the other goals that people pursue and for which they are willing to sacrifice some of their SWB, the prominent appear to be about their relatives and about their future self.
So 90% of us seem to want to maximise our subjective well-being. One interesting question is what does this tell us about assuming utility maximisation as a starting point for modelling consumer behaviour?

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