The Unhappiness of Megacities

Authors: Martijn Burger*, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Topics: Urban Geography, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: subjective well-being, cities
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Cabinet Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the past few years, there has been increasing attention to subjective well-being (SWB), also known as happiness or life satisfaction, in public policy and popular culture. In 2012, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution that governments should try to increase the subjective well-being of their citizens. Along these lines, one of the key objectives of the 2020 European Strategy is the promotion of subjective well-being. However, happiness as a policy issue remains not confined to central governments. Many cities have commenced to monitor ‘Gross Urban Happiness’ by means of community well-being surveys. Also in academia increasing attention is paid to what extent location of residence is related to SWB. A central theme in the debate on the SWB and location concerns the question why megacities in Western countries are currently the most popular places to live, while at the same time people in cities are, on average, less happy than people living in smaller cities and rural areas. In this paper, we shed light on this ‘urban happiness paradox’ by exploring how we can explain urban-rural differences in SWB. Are differences driven by place characteristics such as crime, congestion and inequality drive lower levels of SWB in megacities or by a selection of unhappy people (e.g., singles, unemployed, and ethnic minorities) into megacities?

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