A key concern when crafting sustainable development policy is maximizing the benefits that derive from economic growth, such as increases in life-expectancy, while also reducing the negative impact that such growth has on environmental systems. In order to explore such tradeoffs research in environmental sociology has focused on a measurement of socio-environmental intensity known as the carbon intensity of well-being (CIWB). We explore the asymmetrical relationship between economic activity and CIWB for 153 nations from 1961–2013, as well as the theoretical implications of such a relationship. We initially find that in developed nations economic growth has no significant relationship to CWIB, however, declines in economic activity do significantly reduce CIWB. In less developed nations we find that increases and decreases in economic development are both significantly associated to CIWB and have associations which are not distinguishable from one another in magnitude. In an attempt to better understand these differences, we take financial processes into account, finding that such considerations account for the finding of asymmetry. Taken together, the findings of this study demonstrate the importance of considering the possibility of directional asymmetry, as well as the theoretical implications of such asymmetry, when specifying statistical models for regression analyses.