February 7, 2010

Andrew J. Oswald
Department of Economics
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL

Dear Andrew Oswald:
I read with much interest your article (Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being.  Evidence from the U.S.A. Andrew J. Oswald and Stephen Wu SCIENCE vol. 327 no. 5965 January 29, 2010 page 576.)  I have read before that there is no correlation between wealth and happiness (assuming always that basic needs are met to a certain degree) but you are the first to prove a definite negative correlation.  If I might be so bold, let me list the states in order of happiness as you give them, stating with the happiest and going to the least happy.

Wyoming, South Dakota, Arkansas, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Mississippi, Louisiana, Maine, Florida, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Mexico, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon, Alaska, Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Nevada, Delaware, Virginia, Connecticut, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Utah, Missouri, Washington, California, New Hampshire, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, New York. 

You point out a trend toward poorer is less happy.  I am at a loss to see any other trend in it.  At all events, this is a most profound challenge to the view so often espoused by the ECONOMIST newspaper that wealth is everything.  They are hardly alone in this.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in people’s opinions and public policy.

I was particularly pleased that you included the statement that the reproducibility of the results when people were asked how happy they were was the same as if the same people had been asked the same question two weeks later.  That is very reproducible indeed.

My own interest is in fertility.  I cannot put my hand to any article that says, “Children make you happy.”  I think it would be more likely to find one that said, “Grandchildren make you happy,” but I have not seen that either.
What I do know, and what I try to bring attention to on my website NoBabies.net is that in order to have a high fertility rate a community must have a surprisingly small and exclusive mating pool.  Evidence and references are on the enclosed DVD.  More is at my website.  And of course I am available for any clarification or other help I might offer.

In addition to trying to spread the word on this little recognized phenomenon by having a website, I also write directly to experts who might be able to use the information.  Just now this includes you.  I post my letters and stand ready to post any reply that addresses the issue.

The reason I think you might be able to use it is this.  Your negative correlation between wealth and happiness leaves open the question as to just what does make people happy.  I have an idea, hardly even a suspicion and much less a belief, that the same thing that produces babies also produces happiness. 

Were this to prove true, it would be a good thing.  Right now in the developed world there are simply not enough babies being born for long term survival.  There has been one paper that shows a recent rise in fertility, but it is still below replacement level.  That paper showed a negative correlation between wealth and fertility on a nation to nation scale.  The rise in fertility occurred in nations that were richer than (they had a more sophisticated measure than that) than any nation at all during the early comparison period.  Yet at any level of material well-being, there were fewer babies later than earlier. 

In other words fertility is falling the world over, and we cannot survive that process forever.  If it turns out that limiting social pool size produces happiness then it would be a lot easier to persuade people in societies where there are not adequate numbers of babies to make the changes that would restore viable fertility. 

I should point out that this is a process that works out over multiple generations.  A population does not get into serious trouble in a single generation and is unlikely to be able to recover in a single generation.  There is no evidence for that because a rational mating strategy has never been pursued, but it cannot be assumed that things can be fixed overnight.

Again, if you have any interest or I can be of any help, let me know.  If you have anything you would like me to put on my website by way of further educating those who drop by, I would be happy to do so.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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