[FoRK] NYTimes.com Article: Sex May Be Happiness, but Wealth
Isn' t Sexiness
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Sun Jul 11 17:51:07 PDT 2004
The article below from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by khare at alumni.caltech.edu.
The happiness-maximizing number of partners is one?!?! at a time?! :-)
khare at alumni.caltech.edu
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Sex May Be Happiness, but Wealth Isn't Sexiness
July 11, 2004
By ERIC DASH
PROVERBIALLY, money buys neither love nor happiness, only
sex. ("Success in the boardroom guarantees success in the
bedroom.") But nobody ever tried to prove it.
Recently, however, two economists, David G. Blanchflower of
Dartmouth College and Andrew J. Oswald of the University of
Warwick in England, submitted a working paper called
"Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study," to the
National Bureau of Economic Research, one of the leading
organizations in its field.
The authors say their study is first rigorous econometric
analysis on the topic, and it that the received wisdom may
require some revision. As the paper states: "Money does
seem to seem to buy greater happiness. But it does not buy
Mr. Blanchflower and Mr. Oswald are among the leaders in
the fast-growing field of "happiness economics," which
applies econometric techniques, traditionally limited to
quantifiable matters like wage rates, to the amorphous
arena of human emotion. Areas of research include how
happiness is affected by democracy (it increases individual
happiness), or new cigarette taxes (smokers, oddly, become
In their study, Mr. Oswald and Mr. Blanchflower analyzed
the self-reported sexual activity and levels of happiness
of more than 16,000 American adults who participated in a
number of social surveys since the early 1990's. (Happiness
is notoriously difficult to define, and the surveys make no
attempt to do so; the respondents simply record how happy
they believe themselves to be on a sliding scale.) By
factoring out the measurable effects of other life events,
the study revealed, to no one's surprise, that, "The more
sex, the happier the person."
Furthermore, the economists compared the levels of
happiness produced by a vigorous sex life with other
activities whose economic values had been calculated in
prior research, allowing them to impute, in dollars, how
much happiness sex was worth. They also estimated that
increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse from once a
month to at least once a week provided as much happiness as
putting $50,000 in the bank.
A lasting marriage, by comparison, offers about $100,000
worth of happiness a year - that is, on average, a single
person would need to receive $100,000 annually to be as
happy as a married person with the same education, job
status and other characteristics. Divorce, on the other
hand, imposes an emotional toll of about $66,000 a year,
though there may be a short-term economic gain from the
immediate relief provided by leaving your spouse.
Possibly the least expected finding of the paper, said Mr.
Oswald, was that in general, "Greater income does not buy
more sex, nor sexual partners."
"That was surprising to us as economists," Mr. Oswald
added, "because by and large, we think money can buy
anything." (The study found that men who paid a prostitute
for sex reported they were considerably less happy.)
But the economists' study struck at a number of
conventionally accepted notions. "The conservative,
pro-marriage lobby will be delighted to read our paper,"
Mr. Oswald said. "The 'Sex and the City' view of the world
is falsified by the data."
Married people, he said, were shown to have about 30
percent more sex than their single peers, and were found,
at least statistically speaking, to be significantly
Likewise, Mr. Oswald said, the gay and lesbian community
would be happy with the work. The data showed that the
amount of happiness obtained from "being in a gay
relationship is almost identical to being in a heterosexual
one" and that regardless of sexual orientation, the
"happiness-maximizing" number of partners is one. Celibacy
and very low levels of sexual activity, the study found,
had a "statistically indistinguishable" effect on
Not everyone is convinced one can put an accurate price tag
on sex - or at least its emotional payoff. "Does it matter
if it is good sex or bad sex? To me that is of critical
importance," said Leonore Tiefer, a clinical therapist and
associate professor of psychiatry at the New York
University School of Medicine.
Then there is the problem of distinguishing cause from
effect. "Is your sex life good because you are seeing life
through rose-colored glasses?" asked Edward O. Laumann, a
University of Chicago sociology professor who directed the
1994 National Health and Social Life Survey, a landmark
study on sexual attitudes and behaviors in the United
States. "Or is your happiness a result of your sex life?"
And what about the lurking variable of love?
Mr. Oswald concedes the limitations of his statistical
analysis. "All we can do is paint outlines of the numbers,"
he said. "We can't hope to pick up a myriad of details."
However, he said a statistical approach can be useful in
flushing out evidence that would be difficult to otherwise
obtain - especially when it comes to a topic like sex,
where there is a strong incentive to lie.
He said he would like to carry out more highly detailed,
longitudinal and cross-culture studies, but behavioral lab
experiments remain out of the question now. "It would be
great to assign Mr. and Mrs. X a certain amount of sexual
activity and a certain amount of income, and see how it
impacts their happiness," he said. "But I think it would be
hard to get government funding."
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