[Excerpt] Bhutan pioneered the Gross National Happiness Index. Now a U.S. study has released the nation’s largest neighborhood-level survey of well-being, modeled on a U.K. census. What does it tell us about the links between happiness, financial services and inclusive growth?
Happiness: as the New Year approaches, it may feature in many a resolution. How is it tied to the neighborhoods in which we live? DataHaven just released the largest neighborhood-level survey of its kind in the United States that studies the relationship among well-being, financial services, employment access, health and other key components of inclusive growth.
Four decades after Bhutan pioneered its Gross National Happiness Index, studies that measure well-being have gained popularity – and especially those that provide an insight into how finances and economic growth are linked. The U.K. conducts a national well-being survey through its Office of National Statistics, while the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network has released three annual World Happiness Reports.
Instead of national statistics, the DataHaven study presents results from 17,000 individual interviews with a representative sample of residents in diverse neighborhoods across the U.S. state of Connecticut; its proximity to New York City means it includes some of the wealthiest suburbs in the country, yet more than one in ten other residents live below the poverty line. In the survey, 21 percent report that they’re “just getting by.”
The study’s participants offer an insight into the barriers to inclusive growth they experience in daily life: subpar transportation to access employment; a racial wealth gap that affects the ability to pay for education and deal with student loans; and lack of access to banks and non-predatory alternative financial services.
Inclusion Hub spoke with DataHaven’s executive director, Mark Abraham, to learn how financial inclusion practitioners and companies working to create inclusive growth can glean actionable insights from this study.
Inclusion Hub: What kind of information does a neighborhood-level study give us about inclusive growth that national statistics don’t provide? Can we extrapolate these insights beyond the United States?
Mark Abraham: The data we gathered in Connecticut is very representative of the data for the nation as a whole. We replicated the questions about well-being from the U.K.’s national census, so that will let us compare this directly with international research on the relationship between finances, health, employment, education, the economy, and happiness.
We can use this data more to look at differences among neighborhoods in a way that national data might not allow. National-level data might be of interest to regulators and policymakers, but this kind of data is be useful for any groups and companies that are working to create economic growth and social inclusion at a local level.
National data might be able to tell you in general how residents of low-income neighborhoods are faring, but we see some large differences within neighborhoods at the local level that aren’t apparent in the national data.
The difference in quality of life between extremely wealthy neighborhoods – Connecticut’s suburbs border New York City and are among the wealthiest in the nation – and the state’s more average towns is pretty striking.
It’s important to remember that with this type of data, each entry is its own story. We had surveyors out talking with 17,000 individuals in their own neighborhoods. We actually interviewed more participants in low-income neighborhoods; we wanted to capture the diversity in the immigrant, minority and younger populations.
What this gives is a sense of connection to neighborhoods. People who live in low-income neighborhoods can really see themselves in the data since they’re the survey respondents: they can connect the issues to the lives they live on a day-to-day basis.
Inclusion Hub: What insights does this survey give us into financial services access and usage?