New York Times Op-Ed: The Rich Are Not Who We Think They Are. And Happiness Is Not What We Think It Is, Either., by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (Author, Don't Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life (2022)):
We now know who is rich in America. And it’s not who you might have guessed.
A groundbreaking 2019 study by four economists, “Capitalists in the Twenty-First Century,” analyzed de-identified data of the complete universe of American taxpayers to determine who dominated the top 0.1 percent of earners.
The study didn’t tell us about the small number of well-known tech and shopping billionaires but instead about the more than 140,000 Americans who earn more than $1.58 million per year. The researchers found that the typical rich American is, in their words, the owner of a “regional business,” such as an “auto dealer” or a “beverage distributor.” ...
What are the lessons from the data on rich earners?
First, rich people own. Among members of the top 0.1 percent, the researchers found, about three times as many make the majority of their income from owning a business as from being paid a wage. Salaries don’t make people rich nearly as often as equity does. ...
Second, rich people tend to own unsexy businesses. ...
The third important factor in gaining wealth is some way to avoid ruthless price competition, to build a local monopoly. The prevalence of owners of auto dealerships among the top 0.1 percent gives a clue to what it takes to get rich. ...
If pop culture is right, getting rich is a path to happiness. Is that true? Does money actually make people happy?
Just as anonymous tax data, which has been made widely available to researchers only in the past few years, has led to credible research on what actually makes people rich, new sources of data in the past decade have given us many insights into what actually makes people happy.
And money is not a reliable path to happiness. ... A net worth of $8 million offers a boost of happiness that is roughly half as large as the happiness boost from being married.
What, in addition to being married, tends to make people happy? ... People get a big happiness boost from being with a romantic partner or friends but not from other people, like colleagues, children or acquaintances. Weather plays only a small role in happiness, except that people get a hearty mood boost on extraordinary days, such as those above 75 degrees and sunny. People are consistently happier when they are out in nature, particularly near a body of water, particularly when the scenery is beautiful. ...
Many of us work far too hard at jobs with people we don’t like — not a likely path to happiness. Dr. MacKerron and the economist Alex Bryson found that work is the second-most-miserable activity; of 40 activities, only being sick in bed makes people less happy than working. The economist Steven Levitt found that when people are uncertain whether to quit a job, they can be nudged to quit. And when they quit, they report increased happiness months later.
Many of us move to big cities and spend little time in nature — also not a path to happiness. A study by the economists Ed Glaeser and Josh Gottlieb ranked the happiness of every American metropolitan area. They found that New York City was just about the least happy. Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco also scored low. The happiest places include Flagstaff, Ariz.; Naples, Fla., and pretty much all of Hawaii. And when people move out of unhappy cities to happy places, they report increased happiness.
Many of us while away hours on social media — also not a path to happiness. The Mappiness project found that, of 27 leisure activities, social media ranks dead last in how much happiness it brings. A randomized controlled trial on the effects of social media found that when people were paid to stop using Facebook, they spent more time socializing and reported higher subjective well-being.
Big data tells us there are very simple things that do make people happy, things that have been around for thousands of years. After reading all the studies on happiness, I concluded that modern happiness research could be summed up in one sentence, a sentence we might jokingly call the data-driven answer to life.
The data-driven answer to life is as follows: Be with your love, on an 80-degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Don't Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life (2022):
Big decisions are hard. We consult friends and family, make sense of confusing “expert” advice online, maybe we read a self-help book to guide us. In the end, we usually just do what feels right, pursuing high stakes self-improvement—such as who we marry, how to date, where to live, what makes us happy—based solely on what our gut instinct tells us. But what if our gut is wrong? Biased, unpredictable, and misinformed, our gut, it turns out, is not all that reliable. And data can prove this.
In Don’t Trust Your Gut, economist, former Google data scientist, and New York Times bestselling author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz reveals just how wrong we really are when it comes to improving our own lives. In the past decade, scholars have mined enormous datasets to find remarkable new approaches to life’s biggest self-help puzzles. Data from hundreds of thousands of dating profiles have revealed surprising successful strategies to get a date; data from hundreds of millions of tax records have uncovered the best places to raise children; data from millions of career trajectories have found previously unknown reasons why some rise to the top.
Telling fascinating, unexpected stories with these numbers and the latest big data research, Stephens-Davidowitz exposes that, while we often think we know how to better ourselves, the numbers disagree. Hard facts and figures consistently contradict our instincts and demonstrate self-help that actually works—whether it involves the best time in life to start a business or how happy it actually makes us to skip a friend’s birthday party for a night of Netflix on the couch. From the boring careers that produce the most wealth, to the old-school, data-backed relationship advice so well-worn it’s become a literal joke, he unearths the startling conclusions that the right data can teach us about who we are and what will make our lives better.
Lively, engrossing, and provocative, the end result opens up a new world of self-improvement made possible with massive troves of data. Packed with fresh, entertaining insights, Don’t Trust Your Gut redefines how to tackle our most consequential choices, one that hacks the market inefficiencies of life and leads us to make smarter decisions about how to improve our lives. Because in the end, the numbers don’t lie.
"Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is more than a data scientist. He is a prophet for how to use the data revolution to reimagine your life. Don’t Trust Your Gut is a tour de force—an intoxicating blend of analysis, humor, and humanity."
—Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Power of Regret (2022), When (2018), To Sell Is Human (2012), and Drive (2011)