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ScienceShot: Starving but Happy

There's a reason most parents discourage their kids from becoming art majors: Unemployment is high, and even employed artists earn little pay. Yet the job market in the arts remains swamped. The reason? Artists have higher job satisfaction than the rest of us, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Cultural Economics. Researchers analyzed job data in Germany, which included information on how fulfilled people felt in their current positions. On a scale of 1 to 10, artists—those whose principal occupation involves performance or visual art—ranked their job satisfaction at 7.32 to 7.67 on average, while nonartists averaged 7.06. The root of this satisfaction remains unclear. More artists than nonartists reported being self-employed, which suggests that autonomy influences job satisfaction, but data linking fulfillment to other predicted variables—such as a wide diversity of available jobs and high levels of on-the-job learning—were statistically inconclusive. So perhaps, in answer to the centuries-old question, Mona Lisa’s smile may simply have been a reflection of Leonardo da Vinci’s cheery outlook.

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