Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 23 No. 2 (Spring 2009)


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(Un)happiness in Transition

Article Citation

Guriev, Sergei, and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya. 2009. "(Un)happiness in Transition." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23(2): 143-68.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.2.143


Despite strong growth performance in transition economies in the last decade, residents of transition countries report abnormally low levels of life satisfaction. Using data from the World Values Survey and other sources, we study various explanations of this phenomenon. First, we document that the disparity in life satisfaction between residents of transition and nontransition countries is much larger among the elderly. Second, we find that deterioration in public goods provision, an increase in macroeconomic volatility, and a mismatch of human capital of residents educated before transition (which disproportionately affects the aged population) explain a great deal of the difference in life satisfaction between transition countries and other countries with similar income and other macroeconomic conditions. The rest of the gap is explained by the difference in the quality of the samples. As in other countries, life satisfaction in transition countries is strongly related to income; but, due to a higher nonresponse of high-income individuals in transition countries, the survey-data estimates of the recent increase in life satisfaction, driven by 10-year sustained economic growth in transition region, are biased downwards. The evidence suggests that if the region keeps growing, life satisfaction in transition countries will catch up with the "normal" level in the near future.

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Guriev, Sergei (Center for Economic and Financial Research, New Economic School, Moscow)
Zhuravskaya, Ekaterina (Center for Economic and Financial Research, New Economic School, Moscow)

JEL Classifications

I31: General Welfare
P24: Socialist Systems and Transitional Economies: National Income, Product, and Expenditure; Money; Inflation
P36: Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions: Consumer Economics; Health, Education and Training, Welfare, and Poverty


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