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Happiness for All?
Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream
Carol Graham

Hardcover | 2017 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691169460
208 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 20 line illus. 12 tables.
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A Q&A with Carol Graham

How the optimism gap between rich and poor is creating an increasingly divided society

The Declaration of Independence states that all people are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that among these is the pursuit of happiness. But is happiness available equally to everyone in America today? How about elsewhere in the world? Carol Graham draws on cutting-edge research linking income inequality with well-being to show how the widening prosperity gap has led to rising inequality in people's beliefs, hopes, and aspirations.

For the United States and other developed countries, the high costs of being poor are most evident not in material deprivation but rather in stress, insecurity, and lack of hope. The result is an optimism gap between rich and poor that, if left unchecked, could lead to an increasingly divided society. Graham reveals how people who do not believe in their own futures are unlikely to invest in them, and how the consequences can range from job instability and poor education to greater mortality rates, failed marriages, and higher rates of incarceration. She describes how the optimism gap is reflected in the very words people use—the wealthy use words that reflect knowledge acquisition and healthy behaviors, while the words of the poor reflect desperation, short-term outlooks, and patchwork solutions. She also explains why the least optimistic people in America are poor whites, not poor blacks or Hispanics.

Happiness for All? highlights the importance of well-being measures in identifying and monitoring trends in life satisfaction and optimism—and misery and despair—and demonstrates how hope and happiness can lead to improved economic outcomes.

Carol Graham is the Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and College Park Professor at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy. Her books include The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being and Happiness around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires.


"A persuasive and well-supported study. Highly recommended."--Karen Shook, Times Higher Education

"Graham is one of the few scholars who have traced the effects of a dramatic increase in inequality between the rich and poor in America."--Ana Swanson,’s Wonkblog

"Graham pushes the wellbeing date into a more fruitful area, to assess how the experience of inequality shapes the views Americans hold about the future and the value of hard work. . . . She pierces the myth that inequality is accepted in the US because it is accompanied by so many success stories."--Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

"Carol Graham . . . makes a convincing case that perceptions of well-being, including factors like stress and a sense of the value of one’s life, have become far more negative for poorer Americans since 2007."--Jeff Madrick, The New York Review of Books


"Carol Graham uses well-being measures to bring new insights to the divisions that are threatening America. Far from dreaming of a better tomorrow, many Americans, especially white Americans, are deeply pessimistic about their future and the futures of their children. This book brings much to think and to worry about."--Angus Deaton, Nobel Laureate in Economics

"With Happiness for All?, Carol Graham takes the study of the new inequality one step deeper. She tells what it means from the perspective of those who suffer from it, as she explores, from many different angles, how it affects Americans' sense of well-being, and their place within the American dream. This is a very important book, on the deepest social problem facing the United States today."--George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
List of Tables xi
Preface xiii
1 Introduction: Happiness for All: Living the Dream? 1
2 What Happened to Horatio Alger? U.S. Trends in Inequality and Opportunity in Comparative Perspective 22
3 Who Believes in the American Dream? Public Attitudes about Mobility in the United States and Beyond 42
4 The High Costs of Being Poor in the Land of the Dream: Stress, Insecurity, and Lack of Hope 76
5 Well-Being, Aspirations, and Outcomes: What Do We Know? 120
6 Can We Save the Dream? 136
Appendix 151
References 173
Index 187

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