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Do people exaggerate how happy they are? Using a promise to induce truth-telling

Journal article
Authors Fredrik Carlsson
Mitesh Kataria
Published in Oxford Economic Papers
Volume 70
Issue 3
Pages 784-798
ISSN 0030-7653
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Economics
Pages 784-798
Language en
Links https://doi.org/10.1093/oep/gpy003
Subject categories Economics

Abstract

We investigate a novel approach to reduce measurement error in subjective well-being (SWB) data. Using a between-subject design, half of the subjects are asked to promise to answer the survey questions truthfully to make them commit to truth-telling. We find a statistically significant difference between mean stated well-being between the two samples (with and without a promise). People are consistently found to exaggerate their happiness and for several different aspects of life, without a promise. We then investigate to what extent the differences in stated well-being also affect the inference from regressions models on the determinants of SWB. The effect on the covariates are only weakly statistically significant and only for a few variables, if we compare the samples with and without the promise. Thus, this means that the policy implications based on an SWB study only marginally depends on whether we include a truth-telling question or not.

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