Ask people what they need to be happy and you might see some patterns. Family, friends, love, money. But if you really look at our happiness, it turns out that money is far less important than our environment. A recent study tracked people for 10 to 15 years as they moved to different neighborhoods. It turns out that our happiness has less to do with how much money we have, and more to do with where we live.
The study, published in the journal Science, tracked people in public housing complexes in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Baltimore. As the years went by, the subjects in these studies moved to less poor neighborhoods, and seemed to get happier. You might think that they were happier because they were less poor, but that’s not what the study found. The press release states: “Yet, according to the researchers, moving into a less poor neighborhood did not significantly affect the families’ economic self-sufficiency, welfare receipt or employment. Or, as the study put it:
Subjective well-being is more strongly affected by changes in neighborhood economic disadvantage than racial segregation, which is important because racial segregation has been declining since 1970, but income segregation has been increasing.
And it’s not purely an academic exercise either. The authors write:
Our findings are also germane to debates about the proper objectives for public policy. For example, one recent review of U.S. antipoverty programs notes that their effectiveness depends “at least in part, on whether the programs do, in fact, reduce poverty” [(33), p. 12]. By that standard, MTO-type policy efforts to improve the neighborhood conditions of poor families would not be part of an effective antipoverty strategy because the program failed to produce detectable impacts on family income (7,23). But if the goal is the broader one of improving the well-being of poor families, then policies that seek to ameliorate the adverse effects of dangerous, distressed neighborhoods on poor families are worthy of careful consideration.
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