Glaeser and his fellow researchers report finding significant differences in well-being across American cities, and at least three examples in which unhappiness is correlated with urban decline. That said, they do not conclude that population decline itself is responsible for the unhappiness.
“Differences in happiness and subjective well-being across space weakly support the view that the desires for happiness and life satisfaction do not uniquely drive human ambitions,” the authors write. “If we choose only that which maximized our happiness, then individuals would presumably move to happier places until the point where rising rents and congestion eliminated the joys of that locale. An alternative view is that humans are quite understandably willing to sacrifice both happiness and life satisfaction if the price is right. … Indeed, the residents of unhappier metropolitan areas today do receive higher real wages — presumably as compensation for their misery.
”The authors also conclude that many cities with high degrees of unhappiness today were similarly situated in the past, leading the authors to deduce that citizens in previous generations may also have enjoyed higher wages and lower rents as trade-offs for remaining in unhappy cities.