Happiness, income satiation and turning points around the world

  • Nature Human Behaviourvolume 2pages3338 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0277-0
  • Download Citation
Published online:


Income is known to be associated with happiness1, but debates persist about the exact nature of this relationship2,3. Does happiness rise indefinitely with income, or is there a point at which higher incomes no longer lead to greater well-being? We examine this question using data from the Gallup World Poll, a representative sample of over 1.7 million individuals worldwide. Controlling for demographic factors, we use spline regression models to statistically identify points of ‘income satiation’. Globally, we find that satiation occurs at $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being. However, there is substantial variation across world regions, with satiation occurring later in wealthier regions. We also find that in certain parts of the world, incomes beyond satiation are associated with lower life evaluations. These findings on income and happiness have practical and theoretical significance at the individual, institutional and national levels. They point to a degree of happiness adaptation4,5 and that money influences happiness through the fulfilment of both needs and increasing material desires6.

Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


  1. 1.

    Howell, R. T. & Howell, C. J. The relation of economic status to subjective well-being in developing countries: a meta-analysis. Psychol. Bull. 134, 536–560 (2008).

  2. 2.

    Kahneman, D. & Deaton, A. High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 16489–16493 (2010).

  3. 3.

    Sacks, D. W., Stevenson, B. & Wolfers, J. The new stylized facts about income and subjective well-being. Emotion 12, 1181–1187 (2012).

  4. 4.

    Diener, E., Lucas, R. E. & Scollon, C. N. Beyond the hedonic treadmill: revising the adaptation theory of well-being. Am. Psychol. 61, 305–314 (2006).

  5. 5.

    Brickman, P. & Campbell, D. T. in Adaptation Level Theory: A Symposium (ed. Appley, M. H.) 287–302 (Academic Press, New York, NY, 1971).

  6. 6.

    Diener, E., Ng, W., Harter, J. & Arora, R. Wealth and happiness across the world: material prosperity predicts life evaluation, whereas psychosocial prosperity predicts positive feeling. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 99, 52–61 (2010).

  7. 7.

    Howell, R. T., Kern, M. L. & Lyubomirsky, S. Health benefits: meta-analytically determining the impact of well-being on objective health outcomes. Health Psychol. Rev. 1, 83–136 (2007).

  8. 8.

    Lucas, R. E. & Schimmack, U. Income and well-being: how big is the gap between the rich and the poor? J. Res. Pers. 43, 75–78 (2009).

  9. 9.

    Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. Will money increase subjective well-being? Soc. Indic. Res. 57, 119–169 (2002).

  10. 10.

    Lucas, R. E., Diener, E. E. & Suh, E. Discriminant validity of well-being measures. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 71, 616–628 (1996).

  11. 11.

    Stevenson, B. & Wolfers, J. Subjective Well-being and Income: Is There Any Evidence of Satiation? (IZA Institute of Labor Economics, 2013); https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2265690

  12. 12.

    Gelman, A. The connection between varying treatment effects and the crisis of unreplicable research: a Bayesian perspective. J. Manag. 41, 632–643 (2015).

  13. 13.

    Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D., Schwarz, N. & Stone, A. A. Would you be happier if you were richer? A focusing illusion. Science 312, 1908–1910 (2006).

  14. 14.

    Clark, A. E. Are wages habit-forming? Evidence from micro data. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 39, 179–200 (1999).

  15. 15.

    Deaton, A. Policy implications of the gradient of health and wealth. Health Aff. 21, 13–30 (2002).

  16. 16.

    Harrell, F. E. Regression Modeling Strategies: With Applications to Linear Models, Logistic Regression, and Survival Analysis (Springer, New York, NY, 2015).

  17. 17.

    Wagenmakers, E.-J. A practical solution to the pervasive problems of P values. Psychon. Bull. Rev. 14, 779–804 (2007).

  18. 18.

    Schönbrodt, F. D., Wagenmakers, E., Zehetleitner, M. & Perugini, M. Sequential hypothesis testing with Bayes factors: efficiently testing mean differences. Psychol. Methods 22, 322–339 (2017).

  19. 19.

    The World Factbook (Central Intelligence Agency, 2009).

  20. 20.

    Tay, L., Morrison, M. & Diener, E. Living among the affluent: boon or bane? Psychol. Sci. 25, 1235–1241 (2014).

  21. 21.

    Adelmann, P. K. Occupational complexity, control, and personal income: their relation to psychological well-being in men and women. J. Appl. Psychol. 72, 529–537 (1987).

  22. 22.

    Levant, R. & Richmond, K. A review of research on masculinity ideologies using the male role norms inventory. J. Mens. Stud. 15, 130–146 (2007).

  23. 23.

    Mahalik, R. et al. Development of the conformity to masculine norms inventory. Psychol. Men Masculin. 4, 3–25 2003).

  24. 24.

    Stutzer, A. The role of income aspirations in individual happiness. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 54, 89–109 (2004).

  25. 25.

    Clark, A. E. & Oswald, A. J. Satisfaction and comparison income. J. Public Econ. 61, 359–381 (1996).

  26. 26.

    Clark, A. E. & Senik, C. Who compares to whom? The anatomy of income comparisons in Europe. Econ. J. 120, 573–594 (2010).

  27. 27.

    Diener, E. & Oisho, S. in Culture and Subjective Well-being (eds Diener, E. & Suh, E. M.) 185–218 (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2000).

  28. 28.

    Layard, R., Mayraz, G. & Nickell, S. International Differences in Well-Being Ch. 6 (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, NY, 2010).

  29. 29.

    Proto, E. & Rustichini, A. A reassessment of the relationship between GDP and life satisfaction. PLoS ONE 8, e79358 (2013).

  30. 30.

    Kuykendall, L., Tay, L. & Ng, V. Leisure engagement and subjective well-being: a meta-analysis. Psychol. Bull. 141, 364–403 (2015).

  31. 31.

    Cheung, F. & Lucas, R. E. Income inequality is associated with stronger social comparison effects: the effect of relative income on life satisfaction. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 110, 332–341 (2016).

  32. 32.

    Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A. Income and well-being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect. J. Public Econ. 89, 997–1019 (2005).

  33. 33.

    Divided We Stand – Why Inequality Keeps Rising (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2011).

  34. 34.

    Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2008)

  35. 35.

    Cantril, H. The Pattern of Human Concerns (Rutgers Univ. Press, New Brunswick, 1965).

  36. 36.

    Levin, K. A. & Currie, C. Reliability and validity of an adapted version of the Cantril ladder for use with adolescent samples. Soc. Indic. Res. 119, 1047–1063 (2014).

  37. 37.

    Palmore, E. & Kivett, V. Changes in life satisfaction: a longitudinal study of persons aged 40–70. J. Gerontol. 32, 311–316 (1977).

  38. 38.

    Beckie, T. M. & Hayduk, L. A. Using perceived health to test the construct-related validity of global quality of life. Soc. Indic. Res. 65, 279–298 (2004).

  39. 39.

    Lind, J. T. & Mehlum, H. With or without U? The appropriate test for a U-shaped relationship. Oxf. Bull. Econ. Stat. 72, 109–118 (2010).

  40. 40.

    Korn, E. L. & Graubard, B. I. in Analysis of Health Surveys 345–346 (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 1999).

  41. 41.

    Kass, R. E. & Raftery, A. E. Bayes factors. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 90, 773–795 (1995).

  42. 42.

    Jeffreys, H. Theory of Probability (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 1961).

  43. 43.

    Rouder, J. N., Speckman, P. L., Sun, D., Morey, R. D. & Iverson, G. Bayesian t tests for accepting and rejecting the null hypothesis. Psychon. Bull. Rev. 16, 225–237 (2009).

Download references


This research was not supported by any funding.

Author information


  1. Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

    • Andrew T. Jebb
    •  & Louis Tay
  2. Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA

    • Ed Diener
    •  & Shigehiro Oishi


  1. Search for Andrew T. Jebb in:

  2. Search for Louis Tay in:

  3. Search for Ed Diener in:

  4. Search for Shigehiro Oishi in:


A.T.J. analysed the data and wrote the paper. Project planning, data access and critical feedback were provided by E.D., L.T. and S.O.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew T. Jebb.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–6, Supplementary Tables 1–7, Supplementary References.