Apologies to all the city slickers, but despite having a world of entertainment, cultural experiences, and global food options at your fingertips, people living in small towns and rural areas are happier, according to a new Canadian study.
Hoping to provide a tool by which policy makers and city planners could improve urban areas, researchers from the Vancouver School of Economics and McGill University crunched numbers from two ongoing nationwide surveys in order to assess what type of communities are happiest, and why.
Their working paper, now published online, drew life satisfaction scores from 400,000 individuals using responses to the Canadian Community Health Surveys and the General Social Surveys conducted from 2009 to 2014. The answers were then cross-referenced with demographic data about the participant’s community. To avoid the arbitrary and misleading boundaries of large census subdivisions, the team parceled the nation into small geographic regions using natural, built, and administrative boundaries that were delineated with the help of local experts.
In true Canadian fashion, happiness levels, measured on a scale of 1 to 10, averaged from 7.04 in the least happy regions to 8.96 in the happiest, implying that residents are either all pretty darn pleased with their lives or too polite to admit otherwise.
When exploring what factors were associated with happy communities, the authors were surprised by the magnitude of difference between rural areas and cities, as well as the apparent lack of effect by expected factors.
Overall, the happiest and least happy communities had similar average incomes, education levels, unemployment rates, levels of social trust (exemplified by questions like ‘how likely is it that a lost wallet would be returned by a neighbor?’), and indigenous populations.
Happier areas, on the other hand, tended to have lower commute times, less percent of the population spending over 30 percent of income on housing, moved less frequently, and had a smaller foreign-born population percentage – all classic hallmarks of urban life, according to the authors.
Quite tellingly, communities that were grouped into the very highest happiest category, or quintile, showed population densities a whopping eight times lower than that of the least happy quintile, leading the authors to conclude, quite succinctly: “life is significantly less happy in urban areas.” Other recent research has also found this so-called urban-rural happiness gradient.
The researchers do concede that there was a substantial range in life satisfaction scores within communities, a finding that is masked by averaging. Indeed, the happiest city folks were almost as happy as the happiest country people, yet the least satisfied country person was still significantly less bummed than the unhappiest city inhabitant.
Though they are hesitant to jump to conclusions about the causes of happiness, given that this study only demonstrates correlations, they do note that low measures of inequality and a high sense of community belonging were consistently linked to happiness – elements that were found more often in rural areas.
[H/T: The Washington Post]