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‘Studying economics makes you happier’

Freek van der Hulst
Freek van der Hulst is a MSc Economics student. He is mainly interested in the synergy between economics and technology and how it could benefit society.

In recent years, literature on the so-called economics of happiness, which examines the (economic) factors that affect individual happiness, has grown rapidly. It is said that its findings have been a serious challenge to the economic profession. But what about the happiness of economists themselves? Two German economists have now estimated the causal effect of studying economics on subjective well-being. 

In the past, a lot has been written about the behavior of economists, showing that they act different from other people in several ways. Stigler (1959) claimed that studying economics makes individuals more conservative, while Frey and Meier (2003) showed that business economics students contributed less to a charity fund that was set up by the University of Zurich. The overall notion is that economists or economics students act more selfish or “rational” than other individuals.

In a new paper, written by J. Haucap and U. Heimeshoff, an empirical analysis is done using a survey that was conducted on the Ruhr University of Bochum in 2005. The survey was held among 918 students of economics and other social sciences. They were asked to answer some questions about their socio-economic background, their study behavior and attitudes and their general life satisfaction, assuming that this term is interchangeable with happiness. Moreover, they had to say something about (what they thought were) their future career perspectives.

The results suggest that studying economics has a positive effect on self-reported life satisfaction, while, when compared to economics, there is a negative effect for other social sciences. Furthermore, in general terms, income and job expectations are an important factor contributing to happiness. Christian students also tend to be significantly happier. While earlier experiments showed that selfish behavior can be associated with lower levels of individual happiness, the paper suggests that this does not necessarily have to be true – just that you know.

Image: teegardin – Flickr/Creative Commons/by-nc-nd 2.0

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