Quick Takes

Bummer: Kentuckians’ sense of well-being ranks low, according to analysis of Gallup polls

By: - January 5, 2023 2:23 pm

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This article is republished from Kentucky Health News,  an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Kentuckians’ sense of well-being from 2008 to 2017 was the worst of any U.S. state except West Virginia, according to a research paper that uses polling data to compare life satisfaction, enjoyment, smiling and being well-rested along with the negative affects of pain, sadness, anger and worry.

The research also looks at 163 other nations, and ranks them along with U.S. states. In those rankings, Kentucky is 89th, just below Russia and Uruguay and just above South Korea and Belgium. West Virginia is 101st, just below Sri Lanka and just above Mauritania.

The research is being done by economics professor David G. Blanchflower of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and social-science professor Alex Bryson of University College London. It is published as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit organization that says it is “committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.”

The researchers write that their four positive measures aren’t just the flip side of the negative measures: “It seems they are, at least to some extent, measuring different things. . . . The implication is that we might need more than life satisfaction alone to obtain a robust assessment of state rankings on well-being.”

The four negative questions in the Gallup Inc. polls asked respondents if they had experienced physical pain, sadness, worry or anger “during a lot of the day yesterday.” The four positive questions were:

  • Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. Suppose we say that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. If the top step is 10 and the bottom step is zero, on which step of the ladder do you feel you personally stand at the present time?
  • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about enjoyment?
  • Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
  • Now, please think about yesterday, from the morning until the end of the day. Think about where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, and how you felt. Did you feel well-rested yesterday?

Kentucky’s highest rank among the states and nations, 62nd, was for enjoyment the previous day. It ranked 71st in the ladder of life, 88th in smiling or laughing, and 138th in being well-rested.

Among the negative questions, with stronger responses resuilting in a lower ranking, Kentucky did best with anger, ranking 80th. It was 103rd in pain, 113th in sadness and 118th in worry.

The top state in the rankings was Hawaii, followed by Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Alaska and Wisconsin. The bottom 10, starting with No. 41, were Rhode Island, Nevada, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, New York, Kentucky and West Virginia.

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Al Cross
Al Cross

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is a professor in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and director emeritus of its Institute for Rural Journalism. His opinions are his own, not UK’s. He was the longest-serving political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal (1989-2004) and national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001-02. He joined the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010.

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