Is Business Cycle Volatility Costly? Evidence from Surveys of Subjective Well-being

By Justin Wolfers
2003| Working Paper No. 1751

This paper analyzes the effects of business cycle volatility on measures of subjective well-being, including self-reported happiness and life satisfaction. I find robust evidence that high inflation and, to a greater extent, unemployment lower perceived well-being. Greater macroeconomic volatility also undermines well-being. These effects are moderate but important: eliminating unemployment volatility would raise well-being by an amount roughly equal to that from lowering the average level of unemployment by a quarter of a percentage point. The effects of inflation volatility on well-being are less easy to detect and are likely smaller.