DEMOCRACY MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY
Studies of what makes people happy have found that employment and low inflation are two key
factors, but until now there has been no research on the effect of democracy. In the first systematic
empirical analysis of the effect of different political systems on happiness, Professors Bruno Frey
and Alois Stutzer show that the more extensive the political participation rights of citizens, the
more satisfied they are with their lives. Their research, published in the latest issue of the
Economic Journal, uses data from 6,000 residents of Switzerland to show that people are happier
the greater the local level of democracy. What is more, this increased happiness stems more from
actual participation in the democratic process than from the outcome of the process itself.
Because constitutional arrangements are fairly stable over time, analyses of the effect of political
institutions on happiness have to be carried out on different constitutions at one moment in time.
The problem of comparing across countries is that numerous other factors vary and it is difficult to
isolate the sole effect that political systems play. The researchers overcome this problem through a
cross-regional comparison that uses survey data from the 26 different regions of Switzerland. Due
to the federal structure of Switzerland, the different regions control major areas of decision-
making (e.g. changing state laws, referenda to prevent new expenditure, etc.) and the degree of
control varies greatly between the regions. In some, citizens have many opportunities of directly
participating in the democratic process via referenda and initiatives; while in others, these
possibilities are severely restricted.
The study is based on a survey of more than 6,000 people carried out between 1992-4. The degree
of happiness attributed to these people is based on their answers to the following question: How
satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days? The respondents could choose from a 10-
point scale of p