Thursday 10 July 2014

Hamlet was an outlier

Happiness is being Danish, it seems.

Eugenio Proto and Andrew Oswald find that Danes are happier than other people, that Danes living in the United States are happier than other ethnicities in the United States, and that Danes are less likely to have the short-allele variant of 5-HTTLPR, which is associated with depression and mental disorder.

There's a lot of risk of "just-so" findings in genetic correlates: you've rather a few alleles, so some of them will come up significant in studies just by chance. But Proto and Oswald weren't out on a data-mining expedition here. They started with the usual result that Denmark is one of the happiest countries in world survey rankings of such things, then looked to the psych lit to find genes correlated with depression, then checked whether Danes are less likely to have that variant. And, the "Danes in the United States are happier too" finding weighs against other potential explanations, like that perhaps it's Danish welfare systems driving things rather than characteristics specific to Danes.

Further, the greater your "genetic distance" from the Danes, the worse your country's happiness score.

If this one holds up, I wonder what happens to the literature that argues the happiness merits of Nordic social democracy. I suppose you'd need a rich international panel checking the interaction between Danish background and the country of residence's institutional structure. I wonder whether the Danish diaspora would be big enough for reasonable tests.

HT: Chris Dillow


  1. Are you familiar with the theory that depression has its roots in an adaptive behaviour? In which case, perhaps social conditions elsewhere select for depression genes as a helpful coping mechanism, but the Danes' arrangements make it maladaptive.

    So I wouldn't rush to draw conclusions...

  2. So, if the Danes have periodic bloodbaths that kill off all the leading neurotic depressives prior to their being taken over for a bit by Norway, that could flip things such that Hamlet isn't outlier but rather the reason for Denmark's being so happy?

  3. J Adhern says: “This directive coincides with a significant drop in the number of
    family violence prosecutions, while at the same time the number of
    family violence investigations has soared."

    But you have to be careful here because our own Christchurch Longitudinal study and others overseas show females initiate anywhere between 30-70% of the violence and I should imagine the police treat the sexes differently for various reasons. It could be that females are responsible for a lot of the "soared" investigations and police have declined to prosecute because the male victim doesn't want to prolong the thing or taking the female out has major ramifications for the children etc.
    I lived next door to flats for 30 years and there were lots of police visits but on every occasion regardless of who started the fight it was the male who was removed. It might have been unfair but it was entirely pragmatic and allowed the neighbours to get some sleep.