Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why is research about Bulgarians' sadness so sad?

We know the saying that money does not buy happiness. But even if there is a significant correlation between income and measures of satisfaction, it is far from one, with some pretty significant outliers. One of them is Bulgaria, whose inhabitants
are among the saddest in the world despite being "middle income."

Hernando Zuleta and Maria Draganova claim this can be explained by a set of factors: it is too cold in the winter, but I would counterargue that this is also valid for Bulgaria's neighbors. Health matters, too, but Bulgaria fares better than its neighbors, in particular Russia (where it is even colder). Maybe the sadness can be explained by the low proportion of young people, or the lack of upward mobility of family income, or the increased inequality, or the collapse of incomes in the 1990's. But again, this all applies to the neighboring countries as well. This sounds all very speculative, but this is really what the paper writes about. One can put all this is a regression and see whether it actually matters. And if Bulgaria is still an outlier, blame culture. Which the authors actually do.


Graham Peterson said...

Wouldn't the explanation be more compelling if "culture" were systematically teased out, even as a well-defined hypothesis, rather than being posed as a catch-all residual?

I don't think the problem is that culture doesn't matter, or doesn't exist -- it's that researchers have such a terrible definition of it and like you say bring it in when there appears no material explanation for something.

People in the Street do that all the time -- except there it's God instead of culture.

Maria said...

I think some of your comments in the text are completely wrong. First, we as authors have acknowledged the fact that it is colder in Russia but we were comparing the level of happiness and the average temperature in relative terms. Second, you mention that Bulgaria's neighbours have a similar economic position when it is not actually true. Romania, Turkey and Greece(apart from the recent bailout crisis) are prospering much better. Third, and most important the point of the article was not to prove that Bulgaria is so poor but rather to answer the question: Why are Bulgarians so sad even if they are not doing so bad in relative economic terms? What I agree from you comments is that a regression analysis might have been useful but our work was aiming at a light paper.

Anonymous said...

First, the paper is not a research paper. It is just a discussion based on the findings of real research papers, so the title of the comment is misleading to say the least.
Second, the authors take the main determinants of happiness (identified by other researchers) and check if these variables may help to explain the sadness of Bulgaria. What they find is that, indeed, some of these variables may help to explain the sadness of Bulgaria. The claim of the blogger is “this applies also to the neighbors”. This is wrong. There is not a single cause of sadness which applies to all the neighbors.
Finally, the aim of the paper is to open a discussion around the problem. Given what we know can we suggest a policy? What else do we want to know?