Be Happy, Be Rich, Someday

Life satisfaction in adolescence linked to higher income later on

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Does it seem like life would be easier if you were rich? Like all rich people are happier? What if it was the other way around? What if being happy is what made you rich? Of course, nothing is that simple.

But there is a nugget of truth in that suggestion. A recent study found that those who are happier during their youth tend to go on to earn higher incomes as adults. 

Similarly, those who were more unhappy in their youth were less likely to earn as much money. The researchers found that those who reported being exceptionally unhappy in their late teens were making about 30 percent less than the average of their peers (about $35,000) when they were age 29.

"Ask a therapist how to develop a positive perspective."

The study, led by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, from the School of Public Policy at University College London, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This study included over 14,000 surveys with students when they were 16, 18 and 22 years old, and then they were tracked through at least age 29.

The researchers found that those who were happier as a teenager or young adult were also more likely to earn more money later on.

When assessing life satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 5, each higher point on the scale when a person was 22 correlated with nearly $2,000 more in annual earnings when that person was 29.

The researchers used information from the survey to adjust their analysis to account for other factors that might influence someone's earning power later on. These factors included respondents' education level, IQ, physical health, height, self-esteem and happiness in their late 20s.

The researchers also made calculations to account for the fact that a person's expectations of later wealth or poverty may influence how satisfied they are with life when younger.

Unsurprisingly, the results also showed that the connection between happiness in youth and earning more later is also influenced by getting a college degree and getting hired and promoted at a job. They also found influences related to a person's overall sense of optimism and how extroverted they are. Having fewer mental health concerns also helped.

But the most basic finding is that having a positive sense of well-being as a teen and young adult makes it more likely that individuals will earn more money ten years later.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The study was funded by the United Kingdom Department for Work and Pensions and the US National Institute on Aging.

The long-term study whose data they used is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 20, 2012
Last Updated:
November 26, 2012