How different life events compare to a 4-fold increase in income

By | April 9, 2017

Today we have data from the very popular (and often cited) study on how High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. If you have ever come across something about happiness peaking at an income of $75,000, this study is likely the culprit. However, I wanted to graph the less cited portion of the paper which shows the relative impact on life evaluation and stress when compared to a 4-fold increase in income.

For the curious, the Cantril Scale is used as the proxy for “life evaluation”, and is defined as follows,

  • Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
  • The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
  • On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
  • On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

Without further ado,

Change in evaluation of life relative to a 4-fold income increase (positive ratio = good effect)


These values are all relative to an income increase of 4-fold (we can see that category stays at 1.0). All of the other events are adjusted accordingly. We can also take a look at the impact of these events on an individuals stress level, which can significantly differ from the general outlook on life. As an example, being college educated improves ones self-evaluation of life, but comes at a cost of increased stress.

Change in stress level relative to a 4-fold income increase (positive ratio = good effect)