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The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain since 1950 Hardcover – April 27, 2006

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`fascinating new tome' Christina Patterson, Independent

About the Author


Avner Offer is Chichele Professor of Economic History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of All Souls College. Prior to his academic career he spent eight years working as a soldier, farmer, and conservation worker in Israel, where he was born and raised. His other books include In Pursuit of the Quality of Life (1996), also published by Oxford University Press, and he has been researching the question of the quality of life in affluent societies since the early 1990s. He is also a Fellow of the British Academy.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198208537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198208532
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.3 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,860,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on March 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The great American vaudeville singer Sophie Tucker remarked, "I've been rich and I've been poor---and believe me, rich is better." This book, which documents in great detail and insight the vast growth in per capita income in the United States and Britain (with some attention to other countries) over the past century, contrasts Sophie Tucker's widely shared sentiment with the carefully researched fact that people are getting richer, but they are not getting happier. What, asks Offer, accounts for this curious situation?

An earlier generation answered this question by noting that being richer involves both having more than before, and having more than others. If relative status is important but absolute wealth is not, argued Robert Frank (1985), then when everyone becomes richer, average well-being will not increase. Indeed, this had been the common view (although with numerous dissenters), since James Duesenbury's famous "ratchet effect" explanation of the macroeconomic consumption to income ratio (Duesenberry, 1949) and the similar view of Modigliani (1949). While relative status is clearly important for some individuals, there is no convincing evidence that it of great importance to most individuals. Certainly many individuals are eager to become a smaller frog in a larger pond by moving to a richer community, and the rate of migration from poor to rich countries is hardly favorable to the relative status hypothesis. Moreover this "hedonic treadmill" explanation ran afoul of the data in a brilliant study by Brickman et al. (1978). They found that large exogenously-generated changes in material circumstances, such as winning the lottery or becoming handicapped through accident exhibit little difference in subjective well-being even several months thereafter.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on March 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain since 1950
Caught in the current economic crisis your sense of well-being may be on a downturn. But then again, maybe not, provided you can still pay for the basics in life (food, shelter, health care, and the like). Avner Offer explains why.

Subjective well being (SWB) is a psychological notion, representing how satisfied we are with ourselves and our situation in life, how happy we are. There are various controversies about it among social scientists, but numerous surveys have been conducted to measure it, over many years and across many nations.

One of the things social scientists try to do with the SWB data is to ascertain the factors that drive it up or down. How do wealth and income, for example, affect SWB?

Offer draws on the findings of a wide swath of this research to report a number of interesting conclusions. He pulls together the empirical case against the idea that more is always better. We are on a "hedonic treadmill" - as our income goes up our aspirations rise as well, with no progress in our sense of subjective well-being. Cross-national levels of satisfaction are not obviously dependent on national wealth, although at the very bottom the poor certainly suffer. Non-market factors such as the family, human relations in the workplace, and other forms of attachment are better correlates to SWB in economically developed societies.

As affluence has risen our capacity for self-control and prudence has declined, Offer suggests.
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Very illuminating as places things in its proper and correct perspective. It has helped me by adding more knowledge to my understanding in a way that I can better uncover the blabber mouthed charlatans that insist in sugar coating the truth about the way the playing field has been leveled for their obscene advantage.
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