Unequal Hopes and Lives in the U.S.A.
Insights for Research and for Policy from the New Science of Well-Being
Watch the video of Dr. Graham’s talk here.
I use well-being data to highlight inequality in hope and aspirations and the implications for premature mortality in the U.S., where the high costs of being poor are more evident in stress, insecurity, and hopelessness than in material deprivation. Inadequate access to health insurance and stable employment play a role, but so do the increasing gaps between the lives of the rich and poor. The markers are evident in income and education data; in differences in mortality, marriage, and incarceration rates; and other signs of societal fragmentation, on which COVID-19 has now shined a microscope. My research matching metrics of well-being and ill-being with the patterns in rising premature mortality highlights the important role the metrics can play in identifying and monitoring trends in life satisfaction, hope, desperation, and misery, and societies’ emotional health more generally. In the U.S. remarkable levels of optimism among poor Blacks contrast with desperation (and pre-mature mortality) among poor whites. I also explore the role of optimism and resilience in explaining better outcomes over time, as those who believe in their futures are more likely to invest in them. These metrics are increasingly being used around the world to inform the design and assess the effectiveness of a range policies.
Carol Graham is Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a College Park Professor at the University of Maryland, and a Senior Scientist at Gallup. She served on a National Academy of Sciences panel on well-being metrics for policy in 2012-13, received Pioneer Awards from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2017and 2021, and a Lifetime Distinguished Scholar award from the International Society of Quality of Life Studies in 2018. From 2002-2004, she served as a Vice President at Brookings. She has also served as Special Advisor to the Vice President of the Inter-American Development Bank, as a Visiting Fellow in the Office of the Chief Economist of the World Bank, and as a consultant to the International Monetary Fund and the Harvard Institute for International Development. She is the author of numerous books and articles. Her most recent books are: Happiness for All? Unequal Lives and Hopes in the Land of the Dream (Princeton, 2017); The Pursuit of Happiness: Toward an Economy of Well-Being (Brookings, 2011), also published in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean; and Happiness around the World: the Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires (Oxford University Press, 2010), also published in Chinese and Portuguese. She has an A.B. from Princeton University, an M.A. from Johns Hopkins, a D.Phil from Oxford University, and is the mother of three beautiful children.
The annual MacKay Lecture Series is funded by the generous endowment of Mrs. Gladys MacKay in appreciation of the education her husband, Reverend Malcolm Ross MacKay (B.A., 1927), received in the liberal arts at Dalhousie University.
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