This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

The Spatial Demography of Happiness

It has been two years since I commented on the World Happiness Report, sponsored by the United Nations, and edited by Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University. At that time, Denmark was the happiest country on earth. This year's report, drawing upon country-level responses to Gallup polls, has just been released and another Nordic country--Finland--has now taken the top spot, as detailed by the NYTimes.
Finland is the happiest country in the world, it found, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. Though in a different order, this is the same top 10 as last year, when Norway was No. 1 and Finland was fifth.
As for the United States, it is 18th out of 156 countries surveyed — down four spots from last year’s report and five from 2016’s, and substantially below most comparably wealthy nations. Though the economy is generally strong and per capita income is high, it ranks poorly on social measures: Life expectancy has declined, suicide rates have risen, the opioid crisis has worsened, inequality has grown and confidence in government has fallen.
What is the difference between the Nordic countries and the U.S. that leads to these differences in how people perceive their happiness?
Dr. Sachs noted that the happiest countries have very different political philosophies from the United States’. Most of the top 10 are social democracies, which “believe that what makes people happy is solid social support systems, good public services, and even paying a significant amount in taxes for that.”
A very interesting new angle in this year's report was the measurement of happiness among immigrants to a given country.
Most notably, it found that the happiness of a country’s immigrants is almost identical to that of its population at large — indicating, Dr. Helliwell [one of the editors] said in an interview, that “people essentially adjust to the average happiness level of the country they’re moving to.” 
“The closeness of the two rankings shows that the happiness of immigrants depends predominantly on the quality of life where they now live,” the report’s executive summary said. “Happiness can change, and does change, according to the quality of the society in which people live.”
And, as the report notes, this also means that people moving to a less happy country are likely themselves to become less happy in the process. To a certain extent, who we are depends upon where we are.

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