Graph: Countries With Higher Math Scores Have Unhappier Kids

What's the matter with Korea?

One interesting nugget in international student test scores released today by OECD is that the countries with the smartest students also reported the unhappiest kids. Korea, for example, boasts the best math scores in the world, but also has the least-happy students. Indonesia's kids report being the world's happiest students, but they produce the world's second-lowest math scores. Click the chart to enlarge (to be clear: this is self-reported happiness in school):

Is there be a relationship between math and misery? Economist Justin Wolfers runs the math. The variation is pretty large (Eastern Europe seems egregiously unhappy, while southeastern Asian students seem to be having a unduly good time in class), but the correlation is statistically significant. 

There are so many ingredients here—culture, economics, happiness-based expectations—and I'm not going to pretend I can explain why several million children are happy or unhappy in their classrooms. (Students in the United States fall below the OECD happiness average, too, by the way.) But a simple hypothesis would be that kids in Korean and Finnish schools, who have notably long school hours, are, after all, just kids. And it's not a revelation that kids don't like working too hard.

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Does This Child Need Marijuana?

Dravet Syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy that affects children. Could marijuana oils alleviate their seizures?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Does This Child Need Marijuana?

Inside a family's fight to use marijuana oils to treat epilepsy

Video

A Miniature 1950s Utopia

A reclusive artist built this idealized suburb to grapple with his painful childhood memories.

Video

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her school. Then the Internet heard her story.

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

More in

Just In