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Why Hope Matters and Should Be Measured
Carol Graham, Brookings, UMD, and Gallup
OECD - Paris
March 4, 2024
Wellbeing Metrics and Science
• Was one of the early “crazy” economists in the field. Now it is flourishing in many disciplines (even
economics!) and influencing policy frames. COVID highlighted importance of tracking well-being in
addition to income as a means of “taking society’s temperature”
• Governments in many countries use the metrics as inputs into their budgetary and health policy
decisions. Most – except the U.S. - have publicly available wellbeing data as part of national statistics.
Getting the data into official statistics is a key first step (what gets measured…). OECD has played
huge role and have benefited from being involved in those efforts since the beginning.
• Metrics particularly useful as tools for answering questions that standard revealed preferences do not
answer very well, such as situations where individuals do not have the agency to make choices, and
behaviors that are driven by strong norms or by self control problems rather than rational choices
• We currently measure three key dimensions: a) evaluative b) hedonic c) eudaimonic. Hope is a
distinct dimension, much stronger linkages to future oriented behavior; best fits with the other
eudaimonic measures.
• Unequal distributions of hope – in addition to income - are a barrier to health and prosperity.
3
Quick note: the method and the patterns (and only one small equation)
• Econometric equations: Wit = α + βxit + εit
• W is the reported well-being of individual i at time t, and X is a vector of demographic and socio-
economic characteristics. Unobserved traits are captured in the error term
• Remarkably consistent patterns in determinants of life satisfaction around the world ( e.g. income, age**,
health, employment, social relationships, marriage)
• Can then explore “happiness” effects of things that vary or change more, such as inflation and
unemployment rates, inequality, environmental quality, commuting, and smoking/exercise
• Do not ask people if these things make them un/happy!
Examples from research of How Wellbeing Metrics Can Contribute – Deaths of Despair
• Gaps between the well-being of the poor and the rich are much greater in the U.S. than in Latin America; lack of hope,
robustly associated with patterns in deaths; could have been a warning indicator before mortality crisis.
• Despair linked to poor markers of objective health and high levels of reported pain, opioid addiction, and related deaths as
well as to labor force drop-out (especially white males); despair now spreading to other racial groups/ages
• How does hope affect future outcomes? People who believe in their futures far more likely to invest in them!
• Surveys of low-income young adults. In Peru – those with higher levels of hope more likely to aspire to and achieve
higher education and to avoid risky behaviors; in US, low education aspirations among whites compared to Blacks;
conditional on high school graduation, Blacks more likely to pursue college. Mentorship key.
• HILDA Survey results – the same approach in large, longitudinal survey in Australia (25,000 observations for 12 years, 6
waves). The results run in the same direction: respondents with high hope more likely to earn more in the future, to have
friends, and to live longer, healthier lives; less likely to be lonely, have a serious accident or illness, or be incarcerated.
Internal locus of control is a strong mediating channel (as in the Peru survey).
• Wellbeing metrics add to standard data: explain things like why people will not respond to incentives if they lack hope.
5
Racial Differences in Well-Being - Poor Blacks Optimistic about the Future, Poor Whites
Desperate
Mortality Rise in the United States (note some changes in racial composition of deaths since 2019)
Fig. 1. All-cause mortality,
ages 45–54 for US White
non-Hispanics (USW),
US Hispanics (USH), and
six comparison countries.
Source: Case & Deaton (2015).
The Geography of Desperation: The Role of Place
• Geography of Hope and Desperation (brookings.edu)
Despair and Vulnerability to Misinformation
• Exploring the links between lack of hope at the individual/community levels and misinformation. Neurological work
finds individuals in despair are more vulnerable to misinformation and related conspiracy theories/radicalization
• Individuals AND communities in despair have lost their narrative, their self-esteem, and a sense of purpose and
meaning that not only provides an important anchor in their lives, but also buffers them from partaking in risky
behaviors or activities that provide if new, if often risky, narratives or else assign blame to others.
• Interactive tool demonstrates how individual and community level despair interacts with structural factors, such as
the absence of credible local news, opportunities for post-high school education and employment, health care
access/ information, and weak public education systems, to contribute to these vulnerabilities and the kinds of
threats they pose to our civil society, democracy, health and longevity, and even national security.
• Link: Despair and vulnerability to misinformation: an interactive tool | Brookings
• Programs to enhance wellbeing, such as those WWWB is taking the lead on in many areas, will be a critical part of
the solution.
“Hope is not a promise we give. Hope is a promise we live.” Amanda Gorman
• Hope is THE dimension that is most linked to future behavior; agentic properties; distinct from optimistic belief that
things can get better, but that people can make their situation better; tragic optimist versus hopeful pessimist
• The opposite of hope is despair, which is by far the well-being metric most associated with premature mortality;
crisis of despair is not only a health issue but also part of the current threat to our civil society and democracy;
vulnerability of the desperate to conspiracy theories and right-wing radicalization.
• Psychiatrists, who admit hope is understudied, note that restoring it is a CRITICAL element/first step in recovering
from mental illness; it restores individual agency that people with mental illness have lost. Snyder’s theory – hope
as having goals, pathways, and agency.
• Hope is a trait (in part heritable) and something that can be learned and, like the Big Five personality traits,
conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, extroversion, and emotional stability (Heckman and Kautz (2012).
Individuals can develop these skills later in life than IQ/cognitive skills; we CAN cultivate it!

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Towards a more comprehensive measure of eudaimonia_Carol Graham.pdf

  • 1. 1 Why Hope Matters and Should Be Measured Carol Graham, Brookings, UMD, and Gallup OECD - Paris March 4, 2024
  • 2. Wellbeing Metrics and Science • Was one of the early “crazy” economists in the field. Now it is flourishing in many disciplines (even economics!) and influencing policy frames. COVID highlighted importance of tracking well-being in addition to income as a means of “taking society’s temperature” • Governments in many countries use the metrics as inputs into their budgetary and health policy decisions. Most – except the U.S. - have publicly available wellbeing data as part of national statistics. Getting the data into official statistics is a key first step (what gets measured…). OECD has played huge role and have benefited from being involved in those efforts since the beginning. • Metrics particularly useful as tools for answering questions that standard revealed preferences do not answer very well, such as situations where individuals do not have the agency to make choices, and behaviors that are driven by strong norms or by self control problems rather than rational choices • We currently measure three key dimensions: a) evaluative b) hedonic c) eudaimonic. Hope is a distinct dimension, much stronger linkages to future oriented behavior; best fits with the other eudaimonic measures. • Unequal distributions of hope – in addition to income - are a barrier to health and prosperity.
  • 3. 3 Quick note: the method and the patterns (and only one small equation) • Econometric equations: Wit = α + βxit + εit • W is the reported well-being of individual i at time t, and X is a vector of demographic and socio- economic characteristics. Unobserved traits are captured in the error term • Remarkably consistent patterns in determinants of life satisfaction around the world ( e.g. income, age**, health, employment, social relationships, marriage) • Can then explore “happiness” effects of things that vary or change more, such as inflation and unemployment rates, inequality, environmental quality, commuting, and smoking/exercise • Do not ask people if these things make them un/happy!
  • 4. Examples from research of How Wellbeing Metrics Can Contribute – Deaths of Despair • Gaps between the well-being of the poor and the rich are much greater in the U.S. than in Latin America; lack of hope, robustly associated with patterns in deaths; could have been a warning indicator before mortality crisis. • Despair linked to poor markers of objective health and high levels of reported pain, opioid addiction, and related deaths as well as to labor force drop-out (especially white males); despair now spreading to other racial groups/ages • How does hope affect future outcomes? People who believe in their futures far more likely to invest in them! • Surveys of low-income young adults. In Peru – those with higher levels of hope more likely to aspire to and achieve higher education and to avoid risky behaviors; in US, low education aspirations among whites compared to Blacks; conditional on high school graduation, Blacks more likely to pursue college. Mentorship key. • HILDA Survey results – the same approach in large, longitudinal survey in Australia (25,000 observations for 12 years, 6 waves). The results run in the same direction: respondents with high hope more likely to earn more in the future, to have friends, and to live longer, healthier lives; less likely to be lonely, have a serious accident or illness, or be incarcerated. Internal locus of control is a strong mediating channel (as in the Peru survey). • Wellbeing metrics add to standard data: explain things like why people will not respond to incentives if they lack hope.
  • 5. 5 Racial Differences in Well-Being - Poor Blacks Optimistic about the Future, Poor Whites Desperate
  • 6. Mortality Rise in the United States (note some changes in racial composition of deaths since 2019) Fig. 1. All-cause mortality, ages 45–54 for US White non-Hispanics (USW), US Hispanics (USH), and six comparison countries. Source: Case & Deaton (2015).
  • 7. The Geography of Desperation: The Role of Place • Geography of Hope and Desperation (brookings.edu)
  • 8. Despair and Vulnerability to Misinformation • Exploring the links between lack of hope at the individual/community levels and misinformation. Neurological work finds individuals in despair are more vulnerable to misinformation and related conspiracy theories/radicalization • Individuals AND communities in despair have lost their narrative, their self-esteem, and a sense of purpose and meaning that not only provides an important anchor in their lives, but also buffers them from partaking in risky behaviors or activities that provide if new, if often risky, narratives or else assign blame to others. • Interactive tool demonstrates how individual and community level despair interacts with structural factors, such as the absence of credible local news, opportunities for post-high school education and employment, health care access/ information, and weak public education systems, to contribute to these vulnerabilities and the kinds of threats they pose to our civil society, democracy, health and longevity, and even national security. • Link: Despair and vulnerability to misinformation: an interactive tool | Brookings • Programs to enhance wellbeing, such as those WWWB is taking the lead on in many areas, will be a critical part of the solution.
  • 9. “Hope is not a promise we give. Hope is a promise we live.” Amanda Gorman • Hope is THE dimension that is most linked to future behavior; agentic properties; distinct from optimistic belief that things can get better, but that people can make their situation better; tragic optimist versus hopeful pessimist • The opposite of hope is despair, which is by far the well-being metric most associated with premature mortality; crisis of despair is not only a health issue but also part of the current threat to our civil society and democracy; vulnerability of the desperate to conspiracy theories and right-wing radicalization. • Psychiatrists, who admit hope is understudied, note that restoring it is a CRITICAL element/first step in recovering from mental illness; it restores individual agency that people with mental illness have lost. Snyder’s theory – hope as having goals, pathways, and agency. • Hope is a trait (in part heritable) and something that can be learned and, like the Big Five personality traits, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, extroversion, and emotional stability (Heckman and Kautz (2012). Individuals can develop these skills later in life than IQ/cognitive skills; we CAN cultivate it!