Monday, May 7, 2012

Why are German people less happy?

According the Earth Institute’s 2012 World Happiness Report, the United States is the 11th happiest country in the world. The report factored in measures of subjective well-being regarding their past present and future feelings of happiness such as social welfare, freedom of expression and lack of corruption. Interestingly enough, Germany ranked rather low on the report falling all the way down to 30th.

This comes with a shock, as the German economy seems to be one of the most resilient in the world and the German government spends a considerable amount on social welfare relative to the United States. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found similar results of German displeasure in its annual Better Life Index.   In the Better Life Index, 56% of Germans said they were satisfied with their life and through a compilation of factors, the OECD rated German “life satisfaction” as 6.7 out of 10.

Freakonomics makes the argument that in general, richer countries are happier than poorer countries. However, in terms of GDP per capita, Germany is wealthier even than its happiest European neighbors, Finland which scored a 7.4 and Denmark which scored a 10. Even economically diffident Ireland scored higher than Germany with a 7.8. Mexico, a country with only 38% of Germany’s GDP per capita and 26% of Germany’s household financial wealth was reported to be just as happy as Germany since it also scored a 6.7. So, in Germany’s case richer doesn’t necessarily mean happier.

Also, according to the Quality of Life Index, Germany has the 4th best quality of life. In the index, Germany did well in factors such as cost of living, culture and leisure, economy, environment, health and safety. Yet Germany's happiness is still 30th? Both Australia and Canada, who have been ranked near the top in terms of quality of life, have a high corresponding rate of happiness of 7.5 and 9.6.

The US scored a 7.2. But why is the US happier than Germany? 

Only 53% of Germans say they trust their political institutions, just below the OECD average of 56%. However the US is not far better as only 58% of Americans say they trust their political institutions. 

The Germans have a higher life expectancy at 80.2 years compared to the American’s 77.9 years. More so, according to the index Germany was amongst the highest in work/life balance and the quality of local environment, two things the US scored poorly on.

The only pro-US discrepancy I could find between the two countries had to do with material possessions and actual income. Germans have smaller living spaces average only 1.7 rooms per person, whereas American households on average have 2.3 rooms per person.   Also, German household’s financial wealth was only $45,311 (USD), less than half of that in the US ($98,440).

Whatever the reason is, the future does not continue to look somber for Germany. According to the Better Life Index, though still disproportionally low compared to other factors, German happiness has been on the rise over the last decade. I would guess that economically this discontent has an advantage as there is more motivation to work for a better life.

Even with this information, it continues to baffle me that Germans are so unhappy. We must consider though, as most of these indicators include subjective criteria, it is assumed that people must be truthful in their reporting to get an accurate reading. Perhaps the Germans are just more honest?


Anonymous said...

I guess Germans are less optimistic, thus more reluctant to overrate their personal level of satisfaction.

Chelsea Rollins said...

Maybe it's the weather...

Anonymous said...

How long ago was reunification? Oh yeah. Wtf?

I also considered the weather but I think Finland would be worse in that case.

By the way, interesting article but horrible graph. Why even include that mess?

Lenni Bastert said...

This article and its data could be accounted as something to constitute "being German".

When I, as a German, thought about this kind of research content-wise, it immediately appeared to me, that Germans would not score as high as expected to.

I'm not exactly sure about the boundaries of this but I feel it might really be a somewhat specifically German thing to, on average, significantly undervalue the condition of your life. You can get a sense of this almost every time when talking to Germans. When asked "how we do" (in a serious, not the Anglo-Saxon manner) we tend to focus on things that distress us.

The historical reasons for this are of course manifold going as far back as the geographical roots of different populaes throughout Germany (The people from the Rhineland and those from Friesland (Niedersachsen, at the shore) are usually much more content and relaxed about their lives).

Definitely an interesting yet hard to grasp topic. Nice Read!

Andreya said...

I like the picture. :) But seriously, I'm glad that you ended with that question at the end. It is good to look at all of the facts and statistics but there are so many variables that could go into the reports and influence the numbers, whether intentionally or coincidentally, that should all be brought into consideration. But it is a difficult thing to figure out the root of one person's reasons for happiness or unhappiness, let alone a whole country!