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photo: Powdthavee Professor Nick Powdthavee
Professor of Behavioural Science, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick
Associate, Wellbeing Programme, CEP

Understanding the effect of policy on national wellbeing

March 2017
Despite dozens of years of research, we still know precious little about what policies increase national wellbeing.Response
I have life satisfaction in mind here. I think "little" is a relative term; we know a lot more than ten years ago what policies increase national Wellbeing. For example, our latest work on wellbeing over the life-course highlights emotional wellbeing in childhood to be very important for adult life satisfaction compared to family economics conditions. We also know the causal effects of many things on wellbeing (e.g. Unemployment, income, retirement, etc.), which can be used to inform policies. I agree that there are a lot more that we don't know, but I wouldn't say we know very little about what improves people's wellbeing.Disagree

In order to find out what raises national wellbeing, we need to have thousands of randomised controlled trials in all major areas of national policy.Response
Whilst RCT is important to ur understanding of causal effects of X on Y, it also has its drawbacks -- as pointed out by Angus Deaton. It is also not the golden bullet that answers every question on causality. (One of the most important non-RCT findings is that smoking increases the risk of cancer). I believe that, in order to find out what raises national Wellbeing, a mixture of RCT, large-scaled secondary data anaylsis, and sound economic theories are more or less equally important as tools.Disagree

Wellbeing Effects of Anonymous Donation of Eggs and Sperm

February 2017
Donating gametes (eggs, sperm) via clinics as anonymous donors is one of the highest return-to-effort things individuals can do to increase overall wellbeing.Response
I have life satisfaction and meaningfulness in mind here as wellbeing outcomes. I guess I'll have to agree, but with a caveat of whose wellbeing do we have in mind here. The wellbeing of the donor? The wellbeing of the receivers? Or the wellbeing of the future kids? If we are talking about the wellbeing of the receivers, then yes, definitely. I'm not sure it increases the donors' wellbeing, given that a lot of people donate because of other incentives (mostly financial, I would have guessed). As for the future kids, I suppose it depends on the quality of the donated gametes since we know genetics are very important to one's wellbeing. For example, what are the implications on the children's wellbeing if the gametes were of bad quality genetically speaking?Agree

The right of a child to know who their donor was when they turn 18 outweighs (in an overall wellbeing sense) the possibility that this right-to-know leads to a shortage of donors and reduces the number of donor-conceived children.Response
I'm afraid I don't have a clear opinion on this one. Neither agree nor disagree

Organisational structures on workers' wellbeing

January 2017
Employees in more hierarchical organisations have higher levels of wellbeing than those of flatter organisations.Response
I have job satisfaction in mind when answering this question. We know from evidence that work autonomy and work empowerment are strong predictors of job satisfaction, and that these two indexes are relatively lower amongst workers in are hierarchical organisations. Only when boss competency in more hierarchical organisations is high would workers' job satisfaction be high as well.Disagree

Tilting the tax and subsidy mix in favour of more hierarchical organisations (in a revenue neutral manner) would probably improve the wellbeing of employees.Response
With job satisfaction in mind, it is difficult to imagine that the two mixed strategies would lead to an overall improvement in workers' wellbeing. This is an empirical question that requires some knowledge of the trade-offs between the two strategies on wellbeing, which I'm afraid I don't know the answer to.Neither agree nor disagree

Wellbeing and Public Holidays

December 2016
Do you think that populations on average have higher wellbeing during major festive periods like Christmas?Response
Not necessarily. Whilst it is natural to assume that populations on average will have higher wellbeing during major festive periods (as most people get time off work to spend it with their loved ones), we know from research that emotional stress levels tend to be significantly higher in the run up to some major holidays, especially Christmas. This is reflected in the evidence in Los Angeles (where the weather is pretty mild all year round) that the number of deaths from cardiac arrest tend to start increasing around Thanksgiving, climbing through Christmas, peaks on New Year's day, and then falling (Kloner, 2004). Also, the high expectations we have for these periods that are not often met can also put a damper on our overall wellbeing as well. See: Kloner, R.A., 2004. The “merry Christmas coronary” and “happy New Year heart attack” phenomenon. Circulation, 110(25), pp.3744-3745.Neither agree nor disagree

Do you think on balance that average wellbeing would rise if there were more mandatory public holidays in your country?Response
On balance, yes, but that also depends what is to be expected from each individual on these more mandatory public holidays. If each individual can be expected to simply spend more time relaxing with friends and family -- and that there will be no other expectations from them (like Christmas) -- then I think having more holidays will do wonders for their overall well-being.Agree