The term ‘social development’ is used rhetorically in pleas for less focus on ‘economic development’. In that context it is commonly assumed that social development will add to human happiness and more so than economic development does. These claims are checked in an analysis of 141 contemporary nations. Social development is measured using five ISD ‘Indices of Social Development’: a) civic activism, b) participation voluntary associations, c) harmony among groups, d) harmony among individuals and d) gender-equality. Average happiness in nations is measured using responses to survey questions on life satisfaction, available in the World Database of Happiness. Comparisons across nations in 2010 and analysis of change between 1990-2010 show mixed effects. Civic activism and gender equality seems to add a bit to happiness, possibly more so that economic growth. Yet more involvement in associations and less conflict among individuals rather goes together with less happiness. Intergroup conflict appears to be unrelated to average happiness. So not all things called ‘social development’ add to happiness, some work out positively, some negatively and some do not affects happiness at all. Future research should look for contingencies.

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Erasmus University Rotterdam
Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Veenhoven, R. (2012). Social development and happiness in nations. Retrieved from