Do we need wealth, cohesion or diversity for national wellbeing?

Within the group of richer countries, smaller countries and more social cohesive countries have happier populations on average.

  •  Professor Wenceslao  UnanueProfessor Wenceslao Unanue
    Agree strongly
    I completely agree with the link between social cohesion and happiness. Recent research (e.g. Delhey & Dragolov, 2016) has shown that social cohesion is a strong predictor of subjective well-being, and thus a key element for human happiness. Importantly, despite it was found that cohesion is important for both more and less affluent people, the effect of social cohesion on subjective well-being is stronger for citizens living in the richer parts of Europe in comparison with those living in the less affluent parts. Finally, based in their findings, the authors concluded that ?what makes citizenries of affluent societies happier is, in the first place, their capacity to create togetherness and solidarity among their members?in other words, cohesion? (p. 163). I also think that it could be a link between the size of the country/population and social cohesion, and thus happiness. For example, research has found that only a few countries are the happiest countries in the world. Those are the nordic countries plus Switzerland and the Netherlands. They tend to have smaller populations than than less happy countries. Importantly, social capital (e.g. trust, social cohesion) is high in these nations and play a key role in their quality of live (Bj?rnskov, 2003; Helliwell, Layard, & Sachs, 2013). Bj?rnskov, C. (2003). The happy few: Cross?country evidence on social capital and life satisfaction. Kyklos, 56(1), 3-16. Delhey, J., & Dragolov, G. (2016). Happier together. Social cohesion and subjective well?being in Europe. International Journal of Psychology, 51(3), 163-176. Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2013). World Happiness Report 2013. New York: Earth Institute, Columbia University. Retrieved from: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/57573/

  •  Professor Stefano  BartoliniProfessor Stefano Bartolini
    Agree strongly
    Social cohesion is a critical ingredient of happiness. Conversely, I am less convinced that the same holds for small countries. It is true that small Norther-European countries and Switzerland rank very high in international comparisons of happiness. Yet, the Balkans are plenty of small countries that score low in happiness. The explanation for the Balkans poor score does not lie in poor economic conditions. Some big Latin-American countries, with a large share of their population living in poverty, score high in happiness. What does not convince me is that the small dimension plays a critical role in supporting the social cohesion of a country. The most important component of social cohesion is social capital. The literature showed that social capital is a crucial source of happiness. Social capital has a national and local dimension. It is important for happiness that people can trust that policy decisions are not taken for the sake of private interests (including those of politicians) or plagued by corruption. This however, does not depend on a nation?s scale. There are examples of trustworthy political institutions both in small and big countries, as well as examples of unreliable institutions. The local dimension of social capital mostly relates to the quality of one?s social and affective relationships. Loneliness is probably the most important single source of unhappiness. Conflictual relationships, less cohesive communities, with lower trust among their members, produce less happy people. In turn, the quantity and quality of one?s relationships is strongly affected by the local social context. Such context, depends on many factors, including history and local policies. For instance, urban policies matter a lot; we know that some kind of neighborhoods favor social connections and others hamper them. The same holds for different types of organization of urban transportation. Yet, I would not bet that a smaller nations? size would make local policies more attentive to social capital.

  •  Professor Mariano  RojasProfessor Mariano Rojas
    Agree
    I do agree with this statement as a fact, but I would be careful about its interpretation. Countries such as Denmark, Sweeden, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and The Netherlands usually perform at the top of happiness ranks when happiness is proxied by questions that emphasize people's evaluative experiences of being well. These countries happen to be relatively small in population size and more socially cohesive than other high-income countries; hence, a correlation between population size, cohesion and happiness emerges. However, it is not clear whether this correlation reflects some direct causality from size and cohesion to happiness or whether other factors are generating a spurious correlation.

  •  Professor Richard  EasterlinProfessor Richard Easterlin
    Agree
    Yes, but this is not necessarily causation.

  •  Professor Arie  KapteynProfessor Arie Kapteyn
    Agree
    There is a bit of an issue what "cohesive" means exactly, but it appears that countries with a stronger safety net (which would seem to be a function of cohesion) have happier populations, like the Northern European countries

  •  Doctor Daniel  BenjaminDoctor Daniel Benjamin
    Agree
    The small, (relatively) ethnically homogeneous countries of northern Europe are among the happiest in the world, according to standard happiness surveys.

  •  Professor Leonardo  BechettiProfessor Leonardo Bechetti
    Agree strongly
    A vast body of empirical literature shows that life satisfaction of human beings depends (beyond income and health) on the capacity of being active in the social, economic and political arena, on gratouitousness and quality of relational life (see also Helliwell et al in the 2016 World Happiness Report among many other contributions on it). Participation is also something that contributes positively (see Frei and Stutzer on this topic). Hence the shorter distance from the political power and cohesion are likely to have positive effects. As well, since economic life often takes the form of trust investment games cohesion and social capital are crucial to generate superadditivity and higher economic and social value. In addition to it, we know that relative income comparisons matter and more cohesive societies are often less inequal societies. Lower inequality contributes positively to life satisfaction (see also Wilkinson and Pickett the Spirit level)

  •  Professor Heinz  WelschProfessor Heinz Welsch
    Agree
    Social cohesion - or lack of disparity - has many dimensions, comprising both material and cultural/attitudinal variables. With respect to material variables, it is well established that in Europe higher levels of income inequality, in particular, higher levels of poverty, are associated with less average life satisfaction. With respect to aggregate poverty, see H. Welsch, P. Biermann: "Poverty is a Public Bad: Panel Evidence from Subjective Well-Being Data", forthcoming in Review of Income and Wealth. With respect to attitudes, a case study with respect to attitudes to immigration found that measures of social division w.r.t. such attitudes are associated with lower average LS (H. Welsch, J. Kuhling: "Divided We Stand: Immigration Attitudes, Identity, and Subjective Well-Being", Discussion Paper, University of Oldenburg, Germany). Preliminary evidence suggests that a negative relationship between attitude disparity and LS exists in the case of attitudes to environmental conservation.

  •  Professor Ruut  VeenhovenProfessor Ruut Veenhoven
    Agree strongly
    One of the reasons behind this statistical relationship seems to be that such countries allow their citizens a greater say in collective decisions. Another reasons seems to be that these countries function as niches in a globalizing world and provide their citizens safe access to world society, thus counterbalancing negative effects of high social cohesion.

  •  Doctor Jan-Emmanuel   De NeveDoctor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
    Agree
    The data would appear to point in this direction and much is to be said for social capital driving wellbeing but it is a complex matter for policy-makers that requires further study.

  •  Professor Ada  Ferrer-i-CarbonnellProfessor Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonnell
    Agree
    According to current research (e.g., Social Cohesion Radar project of the Bertelsmann Foundation, Happier; Delhey and Dragolov International Journal of Psychology, 2015) social cohesion in a country seems to correlate with happiness or wellbeing. More social cohesive countries also have better health, and better performance in a broad set of social indicators.

  •  Doctor Chris  Barrington-LeighDoctor Chris Barrington-Leigh
    Disagree
    Among the 34 OECD wealthy countries, I can find no evidence that smaller countries tend to be happer nor more satisfied with their life. On the other hand, as for "socially cohesive", it is well established that populations characterized by higher values of what is measurable as "social capital" are happier and more satisfied.

  •  Professor Bruno  FreyProfessor Bruno Frey
    Agree strongly
    Government is closer to the citizens.





The break-up of large, diverse, countries into smaller less diverse countries can be expected to increase the wellbeing of the populations in the longer run.

  •  Professor Wenceslao  UnanueProfessor Wenceslao Unanue
    Neither agree nor disagree
    As I mentioned in my previous answer, I think there is indeed a link between the size of a country population, social capital, social cohesion and happiness. Indeed, some smaller and richer countries (Denmark, Norway) tend to show higher happiness than countries with higher population. However, I am not sure if breaking-up large, diverse, countries into smaller and less diver ones would increase happiness. Social capital is rooted in the culture and the size of the population if only one determinant of social capital among many others. In addition, diversity is also very important for happiness. For example, diversity may help decreasing prejudices.

  •  Professor Stefano  BartoliniProfessor Stefano Bartolini
    Neither agree nor disagree
    The answer to this question is contained in my previous answer. In brief, I am not sure that a smaller countries? size would promote better national and local policies that contribute to building social cohesion.

  •  Professor Mariano  RojasProfessor Mariano Rojas
    Disagree
    From my perspective this is a tricky statement. First, because correlation between two variables does not necessarily imply causality. Second, because linear and simplified models that relate two variables do tend to neglect many other relevant contextual factors such as historical processes, technological changes, and so on which may be relevant for the relationship to exist. Third, even if the relationship exists this does not imply for policy interventions to be well-being enhancing. Interventions could generate complex social and cultural processes that need to be taken into consideration. Fourth, because the policy intervention that the statement implies relies on sustaining the status quo rather than on innovationg and being creative. Let me explain: even if there is a causal relationship between smaller size, social cohesion and happiness this does not imply for interventions aiming at breaking up large and diverse countries to be the unique well-being enhancing kind of interventions. For example, an alternative intervention option that could be considered would be to develop an educational system that teaches the value of and the respect for diversity.

  •  Professor Richard  EasterlinProfessor Richard Easterlin
    Disagree
    Size and diversity are not established causes of happiness.

  •  Professor Arie  KapteynProfessor Arie Kapteyn
    Neither agree nor disagree
    that would be an interesting experiment but I am not aware of any research that speaks to that. For instance are inhabitants of Slovakia and Czech Republic happier now than before?

  •  Doctor Daniel  BenjaminDoctor Daniel Benjamin
    Neither agree nor disagree
    I would be cautious about making a general statement about the causal effect of breaking up a country since the circumstances vary so much across countries. For example, breaking off Quebec from the rest of Canada would probably be bad for both Quebec (for economic reasons) and for the rest of Canada (for political reasons). Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic diversity per se can be a good thing, for example, for innovation and for promoting tolerance. Thus, even if happiness increased, wellbeing could be reduced (where wellbeing is defined to include everything people care about).

  •  Professor Leonardo  BechettiProfessor Leonardo Bechetti
    Disagree
    On the one side the break-up can reduce distance from the political power. On the other side the break-up in itself produces negative effects. As well coordination among different countries can fall with the break-up and with it its potential advantages. I believe that the best option is high level of decentralisation and autonomy without a break-up

  •  Professor Heinz  WelschProfessor Heinz Welsch
    Disagree
    National or regional identity is just one of many variables with respect to which people differ. Many important social divisions (material and cultural/attitudinal) run cross national/regional identity.

  •  Professor Ruut  VeenhovenProfessor Ruut Veenhoven
    Agree
    True in the context of globalization, where several functions of nation states are transferred too super-national institutions, e.g. in the fields of military, economy and climate. This loss of some functions allows room for greater focus on other functions, among which care for the well-being of citizens. A analogue of such a historical development is the family, which once was a multi-functional institution that delivered economic production, protection again theft and assault and insurance, and has gradually changed to smaller units specialized on love and care.

  •  Doctor Jan-Emmanuel   De NeveDoctor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
    Neither agree nor disagree
    I am unsure whether this would be the case since it involves wellbeing dynamics that would work in opposite direction

  •  Professor Ada  Ferrer-i-CarbonnellProfessor Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonnell
    Agree
    It seems generally true that larger countries have more differentiated groups (e.g. cultural or regional differences) and this usually leads to less social cohesion. Thus, if large-diverse countries are to break-up into smaller countries that are more homogenous, social cohesion and thus wellbeing might increase, after the initial period of changes and adaptations. If we were to have good data, Catalonia might be an interesting experiment in case of independence.

  •  Doctor Chris  Barrington-LeighDoctor Chris Barrington-Leigh
    Completely disagree
    That sounds like rather major and dangerous policy without any support for it, according to my knowledge. By the way, for Europeans, Canada might be a nice example of a country with low xenophobia, high cultural/ethnic diversity in its big cities, and yet has managed to support politically something like the welfare state supports of northern Europe. It is not the case that high social capital countries are necessarily small and homogeneous. There are much more constructive policies to focus on than chopping up countries, though clearly self-determination is an important contributor to the well-being of those who seek it.

  •  Professor Bruno  FreyProfessor Bruno Frey
    Agree strongly
    This forces the government to take into account to a larger degree the preferences of the population.