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The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy

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Volume 16, Issue 1


Volume 18 (2018)

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Volume 1 (2001)

Are We Architects of Our Own Happiness? The Importance of Family Background for Well-Being

Daniel D. Schnitzlein
  • Department of Economics, Institute of Labour Economics, Leibniz University Hannover, Königsworther Platz 1, Hannover 30167, Germany; DIW Berlin, Mohrenstrasse 58, 10117 Berlin, Germany
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/ Christoph Wunder
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Economics, University of Halle-Wittenberg, Große Steinstraße 73, 06099 Halle (Saale), Germany
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Published Online: 2015-09-30 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2015-0037


This paper analyzes whether individuals have equal opportunity to achieve happiness (or well-being). We estimate sibling correlations and intergenerational correlations in self-reported life satisfaction, satisfaction with household income, job satisfaction, and satisfaction with health. We find high sibling correlations for all measures of well-being. The results suggest that family background explains, on average, between 30% and 60% of the inequality in permanent well-being. The influence is smaller when the siblings’ psychological and geographical distance from their parental home is larger. Results from intergenerational correlations suggest that parental characteristics are considerably less important than family and community factors.

Keywords: subjective well-being; family background; intergenerational mobility


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-09-30

Published in Print: 2016-01-01

Citation Information: The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Volume 16, Issue 1, Pages 125–149, ISSN (Online) 1935-1682, ISSN (Print) 2194-6108, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2015-0037.

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