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Life satisfaction and state intervention

05 May 2011 | Baylor University

People living in countries with governments that have a greater number of social services report being more satisfied with life, according to a study by a Baylor University researcher.

Dr. Patrick Flavin, assistant professor of political science at Baylor, said the effect of state intervention into the economy equaled or exceeded marriage when it came to satisfaction. The study is published in the spring issue of the journal Politics & Policy.

Free market capitalism has been championed by leaders such as the late President Ronald Reagan and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, while left-leaning political parties and labor movements argue for more government intervention into the market. But scholars have paid little empirical attention to the debate in terms of which leads to more satisfaction among citizens, Flavin said.

Flavin and two other researchers used data from the World Values Survey's 2005 study. Their research included 10,405 people from 15 advanced industrialized countries who were asked, "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?" On a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 10 the highest level of satisfaction -- the average rating for all respondents was 7.39, with respondents from the United States reporting an average of 7.26.

The study measured government intervention into the economy in four ways: government tax revenue as a percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP), government consumption of GDP, generosity of unemployment benefits and a country's welfare expenditures as a percentage of GDP.

"In many cases, less government intervention can allow for a more efficient economy, but greater economic efficiency doesn't necessarily translate into greater contentment with one's life," Flavin said. "If you get sick and can't work or lose your job and there are few social protections in place, you're more likely to be anxious and less satisfied."

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