Gloom and bust: How books echo economy

Authors write about misery and unhappiness around 10 years after they have experienced an economic downturn, a study has found.

Researchers compared words from more than five million books to decades of US and UK economy misery indices.

Data showed the frequency of words expressing sadness reflected the economic conditions in the 10 years prior to a book’s composition.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There was a strong correlation over most of the 20th century between the ‘literary misery index’ and an average of the previous decade’s US economic misery index.

This increased when the researchers compared literary misery to an average of US and UK misery indices, the study found.

Professor Alex Bentley of the University of Bristol said: “When we looked at millions of books for a specific category of words denoting unhappiness, we found that those words in aggregate averaged the authors’ economic experiences over the past decade.

“In other words, global economics is part of the shared emotional experience of the 20th century.”

The researchers examined ‘mood words’ in a database of five million digitalised books provided by Google. Mood words were divided into six categories – anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise.