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Can Money Really Bring Happiness?

By Amanda Rosewarne

January 29 2020 - It's been a debate since the invention of currency itself, does money buy happiness? While we can easily argue it cannot buy love, family and positive mental health, we can be in agreement it can lead to the purchase of items and experience that can bring elation, whether it be momentary or long term, not to mention the ease of financial strain that many of us feel at some point in our lives.

While so many of us push ourselves in our professional lives to achieve higher salaries which we assume will lead to a more comfortable lifestyle, we investigate whether money does really correlate with happiness.

The CPD Standards Office analysed data from The ONS to delve deeper into this topic and form a better understanding of how industries respond.

Correlations between Happiness and Average Weekly Salary within Industries

Respondents from The ONS survey were asked to rank their level of happiness, with 0 being not happy at all and 10 being completely happy.

These are the top-scoring industries with the highest correlation between salary and happiness:

  1. Retail Trade and Repairs - 92.01%
  2. Accommodation and Food Service Activities - 88.91%
  3. Education - 88.59%
  4. Administrative and Support Service Activities - 87.4%
  5. Manufacturing - Engineering and Allied Industries - 86.3%

The industries with the lowest correlation were:

  1. Mining and Quarrying 22.15%
  2. Professional, Scientific & Technical Activities - 26.18%
  3. Manufacturing - Chemicals and Man-made Fibres - 33.22%
  4. Real Estate Activities - 33.68%
  5. Financial & Insurance Activities - 34.30%

Those surveyed were not asked to provide specific data as to why these scores were so high or low, but we can speculate. Some careers such as mining, and quarrying are highly stressful and demanding roles.

These roles do often come with a more comfortable salary than others, satisfaction levels may be compromised and not increase in line with salary increases due to the physical and mental strain they are so well known for. The intensity of these roles, especially on long-term health can often result in strain, regardless of their wages.

This is not to be interpreted that the industries with higher correlations are not stressful careers, but instead, any unhappiness can be lessened, or even compensated with the benefit of higher earnings.

Correlations between Anxiety and Average Weekly Earnings within Industries

Just like happiness, anxiety was measured within industries, a score of 0 signified no anxiety and 10 signifying highly anxious.

The industries that reported the highest correlation between average weekly earnings and high anxiety levels were:

  1. Retail Trade and Repairs - 74.52%
  2. Manufacturing-Other - 72.07%
  3. Manufacturing - Engineering and Allied Industries - 70.67%
  4. Education - 68.51%
  5. Accommodation and Food Service Activities - 68.04%

These correlations were not as strong as the 80%+ on the scale of happiness but there is still something to be noted from the findings.

Retail, trade and repairs reported the highest correlation between happiness and average weekly earnings but also were the highest for anxiety. This was a continuing trend with other industries.

Anxiety is not to be confused with unhappiness; we can be incredibly happy with our lives even with high anxiety levels. We can determine that as wages increase so does job responsibility, which in turn can lead to more anxiety.

Health and social work scored the lowest correlation between anxiety and average weekly earnings, this is a career that is infamous for high stress and anxiety levels, but these results show this anxiety does not increase with increasing salaries.

Those Who Live Comfortably Report Higher Levels of Anxiety

Income was scored in a similar fashion to happiness and anxiety levels, but this was subjective to how satisfied respondents were their income and was broken down as follows:

  • Completely satisfied
  • Mostly satisfied
  • Somewhat satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Somewhat dissatisfied
  • Mostly dissatisfied
  • Completely dissatisfied

How people were coping financially was measured as follows:

  • Living comfortably
  • Doing alright
  • Just about getting by
  • Finding it quite difficult
  • Finding it very difficult

Those who responded as 'completely satisfied' showed a high correlation of anxiety levels at 65.68% and those who ranked as 'living comfortably' reported an even higher correlation of 89.97%.

We can see that with higher earnings, typically from roles with higher responsibility and levels of stress, anxiety increases.

This does not correlate with happiness, but we can see that up to 80% of those living a more comfortable lifestyle also lead a more anxious life.

Bonuses and Happiness Correlation

Bonuses are often given throughout industries to boost productivity and staff morale, but we can see from the below that they may not be providing the happiness employers are hoping.

When respondents were asked if bonuses correlate with happiness, there was very little correlation between the two and findings were relatively inconclusive.

The industry with the highest correlation was construction with a meagre 41%. This can be interpreted in a few ways. Bonus sums may not be high enough to justify a change in happiness or perhaps income satisfaction is already at such a level that a bit of extra income will not change attitudes.

Regarding performance-based bonuses, these can cause more stress as employees push themselves to meet targets, the means may not justify the outcome.

Happiness and Income Satisfaction

You may believe that those who reported higher weekly salaries and happiness would also have a higher correlation with income satisfaction. Higher earnings don't always lead to income satisfaction.

The industries that had the highest correlation between income satisfaction and happiness were:

  1. Retail Trade and Repairs - 87.81%
  2. Administrative and Support Service Activities - 87.74%
  3. Education - 85.71%
  4. Accommodation and Food Service Service Activities - 84.87%
  5. Health and Social Work - 81.98%

Those who scored the lowest were:

  1. Mining and Quarrying - 9.28%
  2. Professional, Scientific & Technical Activities - 24.15%
  3. Manufacturing - Chemicals and Man-made Fibres - 29.18%
  4. Financial & Insurance Activities - 29.46%
  5. Real Estate Activities - 29.95%

Poor working conditions in industries such as mining and quarrying have very little correlation between income satisfaction and happiness as no matter how much these employees are being paid, there are still health implications.

Retail, trade and repairs show the highest correlation once again, as their weekly earnings increase, so does happiness and income satisfaction but so do anxiety levels.

Overall, we can answer this age-old question, money can bring happiness but only in certain industries and you may be having to sacrifice your mental health to achieve this with higher anxiety levels.

About the author

Amanda Rosewarne has a background in occupational psychology, extensive experience in the CPD field, and is a unique expert on the provision of workplace training and CPD learning. As CEO and Co-Founder of the CPD Standards Office, she advises a multitude of organisations, from professional bodies to corporate employers, to small training providers on 'becoming CPD ready' and implementing CPD best practice within their organisations.


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