The Starving Artists: A Quantitative Examination of the Relationships Between Money, Social Relations, Happiness, and Creativity for Individuals in Difficult Financial Situations

René Martens

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis aims to investigate if individuals in difficult financial situations are systematically impaired by their economic circumstances to be happy and ultimately more creative. Modern subjective well-being research has shown that happiness causes creativity. This causal relation implies that a major part of the global population which is disadvantaged socially, as well as economically, is deprived of its opportunity to develop its full creative potential. This would imply an extensive loss of ideation-power not only for the creative industries but society as a whole. Unless another predictor of happiness, like the degree to which an individual is embedded in social relationships, can counterbalance the impairment. To shine a light on this question, the relationships between personal happiness and those heavily discussed predictors (money and friends) need to be reassessed. This broad perspective is examined in detail based on the critical case of Cape Town, South Africa. Using a quantitative questionnaire, participants from impoverished townships as well as from the most affluent neighborhoods are questioned regarding their subjective well being, their financial situation, their degree of materialistic beliefs, and their social relationships. Besides answering the research question, this survey aims to test hypotheses from various publications as well as fill a geographic gap in the academic literature, that seems to underrepresent African countries as cases in happiness research. The results do not provide reasons to be optimistic. The confirmed positive relationship between the financial situation and happiness solidifies that impoverished individuals are generally less happy. Believing in the value of acquiring money (materialism) appears to be a two-edged sword that is associated with an increase of the positive and negative dimension of happiness simultaneously (and hence not an advisable strategy to improve one’s subjective well-being). And contrary to the hypothesis, financially disadvantaged individuals do not report higher scores on social relationship measures. This suggests that individuals in difficult financial situations are systematically impaired to be happy and ultimately more creative. Considering the amount of impoverished people, this constitutes an immense creative potential that, just like the people who convey it, is ignored and withers away in economic poverty - here, the artists actually starve.

EducationsMSocSc in Management of Creative Business Processes , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages103
SupervisorsJens Olav Dahlgaard