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CEP discussion paper
"Better the devil you know": are stated preferences over health and happiness determined by how healthy and happy people are?
Matthew D. Adler, Paul Dolan, Amanda Henwood and Georgios Kavetsos November 2021
Paper No' CEPDP1809:
Full Paper (pdf)

Tags: health; subjective well-being; happiness; preferences

Most people want to be both happy and healthy. But which matters most when there is a trade-off between them? This paper addresses this question by asking 4,000 members of the public in the UK and the US to make various trade-offs between being happy or being physically healthy. The results suggest that these trade-offs are determined in substantial part by the respondent's own levels of happiness and health, with happier people more likely to choose happy lives and healthier people more likely to choose healthy ones: "better the devil you know, than the devil you don't". Age also plays an important role, with older people much more likely to choose being healthy over being happy. We also test for the effect of information when a randomly chosen half of the sample are reminded that it is possible to be happy without being healthy. Information matters, but much less so than who we are. These results serve to further our understanding of the aetiology of people's preferences and have important implications for policymakers who are concerned with satisfying those preferences.