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Americans are Happier in States that spend more on Libraries, Parks and Highways

Media Contact: Terry Goodrich, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-710-3321 Follow us on Twitter at BaylorUMedia


WACO, Texas (Jan. 4, 2019) — Americans are happier in states where governments spend more on public goods, such as libraries, parks, highways, natural resources and police protection, a Baylor University study has found.

“Public goods are things you can’t exclude people from using — and one person using them doesn’t stop another from doing so,” said researcher Patrick Flavin, Ph.D., associate professor of political science in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. “They’re typically not profitable to produce in the private market, so if the government doesn’t provide them, they will either be under-provided or not at all.”

Public goods spending makes communities “more livable, with more amenities,” Flavin said. “If roads are completed and kept up, so that people aren’t stuck in traffic, they have more time to do things they enjoy doing. Large parks are social spaces — and one clear finding of happiness studies is that people who are more socially connected tend to be happier.”

Another benefit of spending money on public goods is that such amenities generally boost home values — and “while higher property taxes generally accompany higher home values, it seems that the good outweighs the unfortunate part about having to pay higher taxes,” Flavin said.

In his study, published in the journal Social Science Research, Flavin analyzed data on respondents’ self-reported levels of happiness for 1976-2006 from the General Social Survey, a representative sample of Americans that monitors social characteristics and attitudes of Americans and is a project of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. Flavin also analyzed detailed government spending data for states from the U.S. Census Bureau for 1976-2006. Revenues to fund state public goods are raised from a combination of state taxes and transfers from the federal government to states, averaging 22.5 percent of total state revenues for that 30-year period.

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