NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

NBER Working Papers by Alex Rees-Jones

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Working Papers

March 2013Can Marginal Rates of Substitution Be Inferred from Happiness Data? Evidence from Residency Choices
with Daniel J. Benjamin, Ori Heffetz, Miles S. Kimball: w18927
We survey 561 students from U.S. medical schools shortly after they submit choice rankings over residencies to the National Resident Matching Program. We elicit (a) these choice rankings, (b) anticipated subjective well-being (SWB) rankings, and (c) expected features of the residencies (such as prestige). We find substantial differences between choice and anticipated-SWB rankings in the implied tradeoffs between residency features. In our data, evaluative SWB measures (life satisfaction and Cantril’s ladder) imply tradeoffs closer to choice than does affective happiness (even time-integrated), and as close as do multi-measure SWB indices. We discuss implications for using SWB data in applied work.
October 2010Do People Seek to Maximize Happiness? Evidence from New Surveys
with Daniel J. Benjamin, Ori Heffetz, Miles S. Kimball: w16489
Are subjective well-being (SWB) measures a good empirical proxy for utility? We evaluate one necessary assumption: that people’s preferences coincide with what they predict will maximize their SWB. Our method is to present survey respondents with hypothetical scenarios and elicit both choice and predicted SWB rankings of two alternatives. While choice and predicted SWB rankings usually coincide, we find systematic reversals. Furthermore, we identify factors—such as predicted sense of purpose, control over one‘s life, family happiness, and social status—that help explain choice controlling for predicted SWB. We explore how our findings vary with the SWB measure and the choice situation.

Published: Benjamin, Daniel J., Ori Heffetz, Miles S. Kimball, and Alex Rees-Jones. 2012. What Do You Think Would Make You Happier? What Do You Think You Would Choose? American Economic Review, 102(5): 2083–2110. [SSRN version] An older version circulated as Do People Seek to Maximize Happiness? Evidence from New Surveys. [Web Appendix] [NBER WP w16489 at SSRN]

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