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
"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
"In a world where people are turning against governments from across the political spectrum, the search is on to discover the source of this collective angst. Why are the leaders of extremist political parties gaining so much support and why did the UK vote to leave the EU? In this timely and invaluable book, Carol Graham investigates whether inequalities in well-being can explain this profound sense of alienation. We know globalization created many losers but, until now, these effects were measured in terms of income not individuals' well-being. The well-being lens casts a powerful light on the fundamental causes: lack of opportunity caused by poor education and failure to invest in the skills needed in the future."--(Lord) Gus O'Donnell, chairman of Frontier Economics and president of the Institute for Fiscal Studies
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations ix
List of Tables xi
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