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Relationships, Financial Security Linked to Well-Being

Relationships, Financial Security Linked to Well-Being

Pattern holds worldwide, is strongest in Europe and Latin America

by Brett Pelham

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup Polls conducted worldwide between 2006 and 2008 show that people with higher well-being have a clear profile: they are interpersonally and financially secure. The combination of both of these things is particularly good. People with especially high well-being enjoy both interpersonal and financial security.


Interestingly, people who are interpersonally secure but not financially secure score lower on the Gallup life evaluation Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale than do those who are financially secure but not interpersonally secure.

A similar, albeit not identical, pattern holds for whether people report having smiled or laughed a lot the day prior to the survey, an indicator of happiness. Compared with those who report that they lack interpersonal and financial security, those who report having both are more than three times as likely to say that they smiled or laughed a lot the day prior to the survey (83% versus 24%). This is important because the measure of smiling and laughing is probably less prone to reporting biases. Some people may be unwilling to admit that they are dissatisfied with their lives. However, few would be unwilling to admit that they did not smile or laugh a lot yesterday.


There is one way in which the findings for smiling and laughing differ notably from those for life evaluation scores (life satisfaction). Those who report being interpersonally secure but lacking financial security are much more likely to report smiling or laughing compared with those who report being financially secure but lacking interpersonal security. Money alone may buy life satisfaction, but it does not seem to buy daily happiness.

The differences in findings for life satisfaction versus for smiling and laughing are consistent with the findings of previous Gallup surveys. Previous World Poll findings reveal that people's overall assessment of life satisfaction, or "evaluative" well-being, is strongly linked to income. In contrast, "experienced" well-being, which has to do with emotions rather than overall evaluations, is more strongly linked to interpersonal variables -- such as the number of hours each day people spend socializing.

Because Gallup conducted these surveys worldwide, it is possible to assess how well-being is related to interpersonal and financial security in different world regions. The tendency for people that are more interpersonally and financially secure to have higher well-being is stronger in the Americas and Europe than in Africa or Asia. This is easiest to see by considering the life evaluation gap between those who report being both financially secure and interpersonally secure and those who report being neither financially secure nor interpersonally secure. In Africa, this life evaluation gap was 1.8 points. In Europe, the same gap was more than twice as large, at 3.9 points. Focusing on respondents who report that they lack financial and interpersonal security, Africans report life evaluation scores just as high as those Europeans report. To put this differently, there is no meaningful variation in well-being in different world regions among those who are neither interpersonally nor financially secure. Instead, the regional variation comes from those who report interpersonal and financial security.


An even stronger pattern is evident for smiling and laughing. Compared with Europeans who lack interpersonal and financial security, Africans who lack both of these things are more than twice as likely to report that they smiled or laughed a lot yesterday. In poorer regions of the world, where people do not necessarily expect to enjoy financial or interpersonal security, it may be less distressing to be without these two important resources.


Because these findings are cross-sectional, it is worth noting that well-being may be a cause as well as a consequence of interpersonal and financial security. People who are happier or who evaluate their lives more favorably may be especially likely to attract or keep supportive friends and family members. They may also be more likely than others to find and keep jobs.

The Bottom Line

Life satisfaction (a form of evaluative well-being) and happiness (a form of experienced well-being) are related to financial and interpersonal security. Overall, Gallup's findings suggest that well-being has as much to do with people's relationships as it does with people's pocketbooks. In keeping with this idea, a great deal of scientific research in human motivation, personality, and self-evaluation suggests that people are social as well as economic creatures -- that people covet social approval as well as financial success. According to a quote often misattributed to Sigmund Freud, but more likely derived by the psychologist Erik Erikson, "Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness."

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted between 2006 and 2008 with approximately 1,000 adults per country. For results for smiling and laughing, confidence intervals ranged from ±1 to ±4 percentage points, depending on sample size. For results for well-being, confidence intervals ranged from ±0.1 to ±0.4 scale points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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