Charting the Relationship Between Money and Happiness
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Can money buy you happiness?
It’s a longstanding question that has many different answers, depending on who you ask.
Today’s chart approaches this fundamental question from a data-driven perspective, and it provides one potential solution: money does buy some happiness, but only to a limited extent.
Money and Happiness
First, a thinking exercise.
Let’s say you have two hypothetical people: one of them is named Beff Jezos and he’s a billionaire, and the other is named Jill Smith and she has a more average net worth. Who do you think would be happiest if their wealth was instantly doubled?
Beff might be happy that he’s got more in the bank, but materially his life is unlikely to change much – after all, he’s a billionaire. On the flipside, Jill also has more in the bank and is likely able to use those additional resources to provide better opportunities for her family, get out of debt, or improve her work-life balance.
These resources translate to real changes for Jill, potentially increasing her level of satisfaction with life.
Just like these hypotheticals, the data tells a similar story when we look at countries.
The Data-Driven Approach
Today’s chart looks at the relationship between GDP per capita (PPP) and the self-reported levels of happiness of each country. Sources for data are the World Bank and the World Happiness Report 2017.
According to the numbers, the relationship between money and happiness is strong early on for countries. Then later, when material elements of Maslow’s hierarchy are met, the relationship gets harder to predict.
In general, this means that as a country’s wealth increases from $10k to $20k per person, it will likely slide up the happiness scale as well. For a double from $30k to $60k, the relationship still holds – but it tends to have far more variance. This variance is where things get interesting.
Some of the most obvious outliers can be found in Latin America and the Middle East:
In Latin America, people self-report that they are more satisfied than the trend between money and happiness would predict.
Costa Rica stands out in particular here, with a GDP per capita of $15,400 and a 7.14 rating on the Cantril Ladder (which is a measure of happiness). Whether it’s the country’s rugged coastlines or the local culture that does the trick, Costa Rica has higher happiness ratings than the U.S., Belgium, or Germany – all countries with far higher levels of wealth.
In the Middle East, the situation is mostly reversed. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, and the U.A.E. are all on the other side of the trend line.
Within regions, there is even plenty of variance.
We just mentioned the Middle East as a place where the wealth-happiness continuum doesn’t seem to hold up as well as it does in other places in the world.
Interestingly, in Qatar, which is actually the wealthiest country in the world on a per capita basis ($127k), things are even more out of whack. Qatar only scores a 6.37 on the Cantril Ladder, making it a big exception even within the context of the already-outlying Middle East.
Nearby Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., and Oman are all poorer than Qatar per capita, yet they are happier places. Oman rates a 6.85 on the satisfaction scale, with less than one-third the wealth per capita of Qatar.
There are other outlier jurisdictions on the list as well: Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan are all significantly happier than the trend line (or their regional location) would project. Meanwhile, places like Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore, and Luxembourg are less happy than wealth would predict.
Comparing Recent U.S. Presidents: New Debt Added vs. Precious Metals Production
While gold and silver coin production during U.S. presidencies has declined, public debt continues to climb to historically high levels.
Recent U.S. Presidents: Debt vs. Coins Added
While precious metals can’t be produced out of thin air, U.S. debt can be financed through central bank money creation. In fact, U.S. debt has skyrocketed in recent years under both Democrat and Republican administrations.
This infographic from Texas Precious Metals compares the increase in public debt to the value of gold and silver coin production during U.S. presidencies.
Total Production by Presidential Term
We used U.S. public debt in our calculations, a measure of debt owed to third parties such as foreign governments, corporations, and individuals, while excluding intragovernmental holdings. To derive the value of U.S. minted gold and silver coins, we multiplied new ounces produced by the average closing price of gold or silver in each respective year.
Here’s how debt growth stacks up against gold and silver coin production during recent U.S. presidencies:
|Obama's 1st term (2009-2012)||Obama's Second Term (2013-2016)||Trump's term (2017-Oct 26 2020)|
|U.S. Silver Coins Minted||$3.7B||$3.3B||$1.4B|
|U.S. Gold Coins Minted||$6.7B||$5.1B||$2.9B|
|U.S. Public Debt Added||$5.2T||$2.9T||$6.6T|
Over each consecutive term, gold and silver coin production decreased. In Trump’s term so far, the value of public debt added to the system is almost 1,600 times higher than minted gold and silver coins combined.
During Obama’s first term and Trump’s term, debt saw a marked increase as the administrations provided fiscal stimulus in response to the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. As we begin to recover from COVID-19, what might debt growth look like going forward?
U.S. Public Debt Projections
As of September 30, 2020, the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, debt had reached $21 trillion. According to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, it’s projected to rise steadily in the future.
|U.S. Public Debt||21.9T||23.3T||24.5T||25.7T||26.8T||27.9T||29.0T||30.4T||31.8T||33.5T|
By 2030, debt will have risen by over $12 trillion from 2020 levels and the debt-to-GDP ratio will be almost 109%.
It’s worth noting that debt will likely grow substantially regardless of who is elected in the 2020 U.S. election. Central estimates by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget show debt rising by $5 trillion under Trump and $5.6 trillion under Biden through 2030. These estimates exclude any COVID-19 relief policies.
What Could This Mean for Investors?
As the U.S. Federal Reserve creates more money to finance rising government debt, inflation could eventually be pushed higher. This could affect the value of the U.S. dollar.
On the flip side, gold and silver have a limited supply and coin production has decreased over the last three presidential terms. Both can act as an inflation hedge, while playing a role in wealth preservation.
Visualizing How the Pandemic is Impacting American Wallets
57% of U.S. consumers’ incomes have taken a hit during the pandemic. How do such financial anxieties affect the ability to pay bills on time?
A Snapshot of U.S. Personal Finances During the Pandemic
If you’ve felt that you’ve needed to penny-pinch more during the pandemic, you’re not alone.
In the past seven months, 42% of U.S. consumers have missed paying one or more bills, while over a third (39%) believe they will need to skip payments in the future.
This visualization breaks down the state of U.S. consumers’ personal finances during the COVID-19 era, and projects into future concerns around savings.
Pandemic Personal Finances: Key Takeaways
Based on data from the doxoINSIGHTS Bills Pay Impact Report across 1,568 sampled households, three themes emerge:
- 57% of consumers’ incomes have taken a hit in the past seven months
- 70% have delayed discretionary spending on big purchases
- 75% continue to be very worried about their future financial health
How do these anxieties translate into day-to-day consequences?
Pandemic Postpones Bill Payments
Unsurprisingly, worrying about personal finances also means that more Americans are deferring their bill payments during the pandemic. However, these vary depending on the type of bill, total amount, and immediate urgency.
Over a quarter (27%) of U.S. consumers report having missed a bill on their auto loans, followed by 26% for utilities and 25% on cable or internet costs.
The average cost of the above three bill types is $258—but that’s still a fraction of the two most expensive bills, mortgage or rent, which come in at $1,268 and $1,023 respectively.
|Bill Type||$ Value||% Missed|
While 20% of Americans say they’ve missed a rent payment over the past few months, what’s even more alarming is that 28% of U.S. consumers believe they will most likely skip paying rent in the future.
|Bill Type||% Likely to Skip in Future|
Another clear trend is that many Americans are prioritizing insurance payments, particularly health insurance. This is good news during a global pandemic—only 10% have missed paying this bill type, although 15% expect to skip it in the coming months.
According to the report, some U.S. consumers seem to prioritize the bill types which come with strings attached, from late-payment penalties to accrued interest.
While missing a single payment might seem harmless, a pattern of missed payments over time have the potential to negatively impact your credit score.
Enough Savings To Stay Afloat?
Finally, Americans are wary about how much they have stashed away in the bank to weather the tumultuous months ahead.
While unemployment figures are recovering from historic troughs, the fear of losing one’s job remains prevalent. How many months’ worth of savings do U.S. consumers think they have if this were to happen?
|# Months||% Responses|
|7+ months 💰💰💰💰💰💰💰||23%|
|4-6 months 💰💰💰💰💰💰||15%|
|1-3 months 💰💰💰||27%|
|<1 month 💰||35%|
No one knows how long the COVID-19 chaos will last. In order to adapt to this economic uncertainty, consumer priorities are shifting along with their tightened budgets.
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