Individual Differences in the Impact of Socio-Economic Events on Health and Well-Being

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: Management, Work and Organisation

Abstract

People's well-being, consisting of, for example, their health, happiness and overall satisfaction with life, is influenced by a wide variety of life events (e.g., income increases, marriage, and unemployment) as well as changes in the society in which they live (e.g., changes in national income and how equally that income is distributed). Our programme of research will show (a) the type of person who loses or gains the most well-being when these events take place, and (b) the psychological reasons as to why people's well-being changes after such events. Showing why, and for whom, socio-economic events can have a large impact on well-being is important for understanding basic questions such as why some people are happier or more depressed than others. Such research can also help in understanding the impact of policy (for example, who will suffer the most if society becomes more unequal). We use already collected datasets which provide tens of thousands of people's responses, over several years, to questionnaires about themselves and their levels of well-being. These well-being responses, as well as detailed medical information about their biological functioning, can be linked to specific events that people have encountered in their lives. We use these datasets to ask five key research questions, each with both theoretical and policy implications;

1. Do well-being reactions to socio-economic events (such as marriage or unemployment) depend on a person's personality prior to the event occurring? If so, this would suggest that certain people have predictably stronger or weaker reactions depending on their existing psychological characteristics, indicating who may need the most support following life events.

2. Whilst personality by definition represents quite stable psychological characteristics, here we ask whether personality changes in predictable and meaningful ways following life events. If personality is something that changes, then this suggests some potential for policy discussions and applied research to focus on how to create the conditions that allow for positive personality development.

3. Is a person's health and well-being influenced by their level of income, or rather by how their income ranks amongst other people (e.g., those in the same community)? If the latter is the case, then this has implications for understanding why the relationship between income and well-being exists, and may offer specific solutions as to how to reduce the negative effects of having a low income.

4. Does losing one pound of income have a proportionally greater impact on well-being than gaining one pound of income? Although intuitively "yes", calculations of the impact of income on well-being currently assume that income gains and losses impact equally on a person or a nation's well-being. This question has relevance to policies that prioritise the avoidance of income losses over stimulating income gains.

5. Do people have lower levels of well-being in less equal societies? Here, we explore whether the influence of positive and negative life events on well-being are different depending upon the level of inequality in a society, and whether this occurs due to low feelings of basic fairness and trust. This would contribute to debates as to the relative costs of allowing income to become more unequally distributed.

The integration within our programme is the focus on showing how psychological characteristics are important for understanding how socio-economic circumstances influence well-being across these five broad areas. Our aim in answering these questions is to; (a) contribute new answers to old theoretical questions in several fields, (b) encourage interdisciplinary collaboration in understanding the impact on well-being of socio-economic events, (c) feed into important policy debates, and (d) suggest an increased role for psychologists to work alongside other social scientists in informing policy in this area.

Planned Impact

Whilst primarily academic research, there is strong potential to impact on the global policy shift towards evaluating societal progress and policy through using measures of subjective well-being alongside more traditional indices such as Gross Domestic Product. This process has been highlighted, for example, in the report of the "Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress" and the "World Happiness Report". Several countries, including Bhutan, France, Luxembourg, and the UK (through the Office of National Statistics), are beginning to regularly measure subjective well-being as a national performance indicator. Once national well-being is measured it is expected to become a target for policymakers who will need to be advised as to the best ways in which such well-being can be increased. Existing social science research will inform this process, through showing how the impact of socio-economic events (such as unemployment or personal and national changes to income) could be expected to influence well-being. More widely, such research is already being used to advise policymakers on how to improve health, as well as proving central to current national debates on, for example, inequality in society (with the research being used by groups ranging from the Occupy movement to the Church of England). Our programme will provide greater information for use in these debates by showing how the impact of socio-economic events varies according to an individual's prior psychological characteristics.

Our individual specific approach to life events research will show the need to develop different policies to improve the well-being of certain groups of people affected by specific events. This would be consistent with the development of a fair and vibrant society, as detailed in the ESRC's Delivery Report 2011-2015. Different policies will be needed if a socio-economic event impacts differently on certain types or groups of individuals; for example, whether specific and identifiable types of individuals suffer more from unemployment than others (perhaps indicating tailored additional support or compensation), or whether losses in income cause proportionately stronger psychological responses than equivalent gains (perhaps suggesting a need to aim for economic growth that is more stable and has less frequent peaks and troughs over equivalent growth that is more volatile). It is essential that such research is produced now so that the time frame is consistent with when policymakers will need this information following the established measurement of national well-being indices. Our approach also has the potential to promote greater interdisciplinary inclusion of psychologists in the ongoing debates, alongside economists and other social scientists.

Banks is uniquely positioned to ensure that impact on this community is achieved through his role as the Deputy Research Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) and well as his prominence in the field. Banks will therefore ensure the policy community impact of this research. To support dialogue with key users, and ensure a diverse representation of views, we will bring together well-being researchers, practitioners, and policymakers through running two end-user workshops. This will not only promote our own research approach, but will also generally foster stronger working partnerships between end-users and the subjective well-being research community.

Given the importance of public involvement in the debate we will further carry out outreach and engagement activities. This will be achieved through proactive media dissemination, extensive e-communication and social networking activities.

Publications

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Aldrovandi S (2015) Social norms and rank-based nudging: Changing willingness to pay for healthy food. in Journal of experimental psychology. Applied

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Boyce CJ (2015) Personality change following unemployment. in The Journal of applied psychology

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Daly M (2015) A social rank explanation of how money influences health. in Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association

 
Description A number of key findings are associated with this grant. These include:

1. A social rank model explains how income is linked to well-being and behaviour.
We have shown using over 230,000 observations on 40,400 adults drawn from two representative national panel studies; the British Household Panel Survey and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing that the ranked position of income/wealth, but not absolute income/wealth, predicted an array of objective and subjective measures of health.

2. Personality changes following life events.
We have shown in a longitudinal study of 6,769 individuals that unemployment results in strong changes to an individual's personality. The number of years spent unemployed and an individual's gender are important factors moderating personality changes. We have we also shown, in a cohort of 4,733 mid-life individuals across 10 years, that personality change was significantly associated with change in existential well-being, represented by psychological well-being (PWB). Personality changed at least as much as socioeconomic factors but more greatly contributed to changes in well-being.

3. Losses in income have a proportionately greater impact on well-being than equivalent income gains.
We have shown not only that income loss generally has a greater impact on well-being than equivalent gains but that this difference is enhanced for those with high levels of conscientiousness. This contributes to discussions on the income and well-being link in that only limited well-being increases can come from increased incomes. It also has importance for the well-known loss aversion bias. Loss aversion is where individuals try to avoid losses since they are more detrimental to the individual's well-being. Loss aversion is generally believed to be a general pervasive bias and our research suggests that this is not the case and that there are individual differences in how losses impact on individuals.

4. Are the impact of life events on well-being influenced by prior personality characteristics?
In a study of 2015 individuals we have shown that marriage brings positive long-term life satisfaction gains to certain personality types, whilst others experience only temporary gains. This overturns the general belief that the life satisfaction benefits to marriage are transitory.
Exploitation Route Academic impact: We have delivered a number of oral presentations on the grant research to a wide range of academic audiences. This includes a number of international conferences and various department seminars. These presentations have already resulted in influencing further academic work and our work is having academic impact as noted by citations.

Contribution to Wider Policy: Throughout the grant period we have situated our work in wider policy discussions through dialogue and discussions with the OECD (via Martine Durand), the Scottish Government (via Scotland Performs and through the consultation of the Community Empowerment Bill), the Social Policy department at the London School of Economics (via Prof. Paul Dolan and the "Visions for the future of behavioural and happiness research" workshop), Carnegie Trust UK (via Jennifer Wallace), and the new economics foundation (via Charles Seaford and Nic Marks). Work from the grant has been presented to economists at the Scottish Government and the OECD. We have also organised two workshops: "Well-Being and Policy", and "Future Directions for Well-Being Policy at the Scottish Parliament", the latter of which was held at the Scottish Parliament. Both have had wide attendance from academics, business, and policy makers.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Healthcare

 
Description In the Pathways to Impact document we outline plans to work with a healthcare provider to find ways in which our findings are relevant to day to day work in that industry, with the aim of defining a final output, establishing a pathway that leads to it, and through enabling the healthcare provider to take the first step along that path and ensuring as much as is possible that they will continue the pathway to completion (with our post-grant assistance, over a three year period). This was always the impact output that was going to be most difficult to achieve, and the least clear about exactly how it would be achieved, although its importance was specifically noted in earlier correspondence from the ESRC at the time the grant was finally awarded (initially, the grant was conditionally awarded subject to an improved pathway to impact, and this impact was highlighted as a key aspect that lead to this condition being judged as met). We are delighted to say that we've made significant progress towards this goal. We have been working with the NGO Hope Worldwide and two hospitals in Cambodia (Sonja Kill, Kampot, and Sihanouk Hospital, Phnom Penh). Our selection of these health providers and locations was led by the recent Global Challenges priority of the ESRC and RCUK and their genuine commitment to work with us to build in the findings of the grant research into their provisions. Our aim, consistent with the Pathways to Impact framework, is not to provide full and final impact, but rather to engage providers such that they choose to take the next step. I have undertaken several visits to Cambodia and the sites to so engage managers, staff, and senior executives. We have identified that one final impact as being improving their mental health provision, which is extremely lacking in the region as a whole. The example below details one way in which our findings could concretely be used through influencing doctors choice of medication. To achieve that final impact the intermediate stage of directly testing whether this would work has to be conducted. A concrete outcome of our work so far has been to secure Hope Worldwide's commitment to conduct this research (after the grant period ends, following ethical approval etc.) and with their partners a financial commitment of £60,000 over three years to support this activity (matched by the University of Stirling with my time and flexibility to conduct fieldwork as needed). This money is to assist with their efforts to improve the mental health service generally, and will involve the taking of the second Pathway step (through incorporating a test of the attached example, or a similar test, as well as the grant research's purpose and key findings (that "individual differences interact with environmental conditions") generally being disseminated to doctors and hospital staff, to situate person centred healthcare at the centre of their new mental health provision. We are confident that this final impact will be achieved in the post-grant period through the pathway we have developed, particularly as the Industry partner has made a financial commitment to it happening. Example Personality and Drug Interactions in the Predictor Of Anti-Depressant Treatment Success. Currently, anti-depressant treatments work more weakly (or not at all) for some people, but strongly for others. The same person many have no response from one drug but a strong response from another (even though each are in the same class and should work via the same mechanisms). Current explanations focus on (as yet unfound) genetic susceptibility. Alternatively, it could be due to way that the drug needs to be prescribed taking into account the patient's personality and individual behavioural tendencies. For example, all (SSRI) anti-depressant medicine need to be taken daily, as prescribed, for full effect and to minimise side effects. However, the immediate consequences of missing a does depends on the exact SSRI used. For example, Sertraline remains in the body for a very short time, meaning that highly unpleasant withdrawal effects will occur the next day. In contrast, fluoxetine remains in the body for several weeks so the effect of inconsistent dosing will not become apparent until later, when it may or may not be linked to the missed dose. On average both work equally as well. However, the prediction of the project is that people with higher temporal discounting (a behavioural economics measure of not delaying gratification) and lower conscientiousness would do better on Sertraline, as the immediate consequences of missing the dose are what they need to keep to the schedule. The quantifiable impact of this project will be when the hospitals assign patients to on or other (equally as good on average) medication due to personality scales scores to customise their medicine; the greater improvement over the hospitals patients will also be monitored and evaluated. This builds on an ESRC funded project showing that a focus on the average impact of the environment (here, prescriptions) can mask important person by environment interactions.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Healthcare
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Consultation on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact One of our team (Boyce) responded specifically on the question regarding embedding Scotland Performs and National Performance Framework into legislation. The comments given ended up in the final analysis of results and specifically alluded to on page 133 "10.4 One individual respondent, describing themselves as an academic, considered that embedding the outcomes approach in legislation by building on the recommendations of the Carnegie UK Trust would enable Scotland to become an international leader in the measurement of wellbeing."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/engage
 
Description Contribution to BBC Brainwave "Rank and Hierarchy" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Spoke as an expert on issues of rank and hierarchy drawing on research from this grant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b075p2dv
 
Description Degrowing for Greater Well-Being 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The talk was given to the Green and Blue Space which is an environmental hub at the University of Stirling. The talk was given at their weekly meeting which seeks to bring together individuals with interests around sustainability. 30 people attended (mostly students and some staff) and the talk promoted considerable discussion afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Press release for published paper "Individual differences in loss aversion: Conscientiousness predicts how life satisfaction responds to losses versus gains in income" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We issued a press release on the published paper "Individual differences in loss aversion: Conscientiousness predicts how life satisfaction responds to losses versus gains in income." It received widespread media attention including articles in the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.stir.ac.uk/news/2016/03/links-between-money-and-happiness/
 
Description Press release for published paper "Personality change following unemployment" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We issued a press release and received global media coverage. There was substantial social media activity and the research was reported in Time magazine among others and several radio interviews were given.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/02/personality-unemployment.aspx
 
Description Talk to Edinburgh Sunday Assembly 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Around 60 members of the public attended a talk on "A life centred around well-being? The personal, the professional, & policy" during Sunday Assembly in Edinburgh. The talk generated discussion and interest around the theme of well-being.

People were interested in discussing the main findings and requested more information about our research, as well as research into well-being more generally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Visit to the OECD 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A week was spent at the OECD meeting and talking with people from the OECD interested in finding new ways of measuring success and going beyond traditional economic measures. This involved engaging with the their "How's Life" & "Better Life" initiatives and attending their workshop on "well-being over the life course". Two presentations were given during the stay that were entitled "Personality and Major Life Outcomes" & "When and For Whom Does Income Relate to Subjective Well-Being?".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Well-Being Policy Workshop at the Scottish Parliament 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We organised a day workshop entitled "Future Directions for Well-Being Policy: Measurement, Implementation, and Engagement?" with the aim of creating debate around the use of well-being in policy. We invited a range of international expert speakers and debate was extensive throughout the day. Around 80 people attended the event and via our use of social media and blog posts we reached many more. It also kick-started many subsequent ongoing discussions we are having with policy minded people in Scotland and beyond.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://economicspsychologypolicy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/future-directions-for-well-being-policy.html
 
Description Workshop organised on Well-being and Policy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A workshop entitled "Well-Being and Policy" was organised at the University of Stirling. We played an integral part in organising the conference, which included inviting speakers, publicizing the event (including pre- and post- event blog posts), initiating and facilitating discussions between academics and policy-makers, and fostering future policy networks. Talks were given by the OECD (via Martine Durand), Carnegie Trust UK (via Jennifer Wallace), the new economics foundation (via Charles Seaford).

A report will be published highlighting the current situation around well-being policy and key directions for the future. We intend to have a similar workshop next year based around public engagement with well-being based policy. We are also in discussion with the OECD about a future knowledge exchange visit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://economicspsychologypolicy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/workshop-on-well-being-and-policy-june.html