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Social comparisons and health: Can having richer friends and neighbors make you sick?

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  • Pham-Kanter, Genevieve

Abstract

Do richer friends and neighbors improve your health through positive material effects, or do they make you feel worse through the negative effect of social comparison and relative deprivation? Using the newly available National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) data set that reports individuals' income positions within their self-defined social networks, this paper examines whether there is an association between relative position and health in the US. Because this study uses measures of individuals' positions within their self-defined social groups rather than researcher-imputed measures of relative position, I am able to more precisely examine linkages between individual relative position and health. I find a relationship between relative position and health status, and find indirect support for the biological mechanism underlying the relative deprivation model: lower relative position tends to be associated with those health conditions thought to be linked to physiological stress. I also find, however, that only extremes of relative position matter: very low relative position is associated with worse self-rated physical health and mobility, increased overall disease burden, and increased reporting of cardiovascular morbidity; very high relative position is associated with lower probabilities of reporting diabetes, ulcers, and hypertension. I observe few associations between health and either moderately high or moderately low positions. This analysis suggests that the mechanism underlying the relative deprivation model may only have significant effects for those at the very bottom or the very top.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

Volume (Year): 69 (2009)
Issue (Month): 3 (August)
Pages: 335-344

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Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:69:y:2009:i:3:p:335-344

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Related research

Keywords: USA Relative deprivation Reference groups Relative income Income inequality;

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Cited by:
  1. Alcántara, Carmela & Chen, Chih-Nan & Alegría, Margarita, 2014. "Do post-migration perceptions of social mobility matter for Latino immigrant health?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 94-106.
  2. Oswald, Andrew J. & Wu, Stephen, 2009. "Well-being across America," IZA Discussion Papers 4600, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Oshio, Takashi & Umeda, Maki & Fujii, Mayu, 2012. "The association between income dynamics and subjective well-being: Evidence from career income records in Japan," CIS Discussion paper series 564, Center for Intergenerational Studies, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
  4. Adjaye-Gbewonyo, Kafui & Kawachi, Ichiro, 2012. "Use of the Yitzhaki Index as a test of relative deprivation for health outcomes: A review of recent literature," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 129-137.
  5. Chenoa Flippen, 2014. "U.S. internal Migration and Occupational Attainment: Assessing Absolute and Relative Outcomes by Region and Race," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 31-61, February.
  6. Kuo, Chun-Tung & Chiang, Tung-liang, 2013. "The association between relative deprivation and self-rated health, depressive symptoms, and smoking behavior in Taiwan," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 39-44.
  7. Stavros A. Drakopoulos, 2011. "Economic Policies, Political Considerations and Overall Health," Economic Analysis and Policy (EAP), Queensland University of Technology (QUT), School of Economics and Finance, vol. 41(3), pages 273-286, December.
  8. Miething, Alexander, 2013. "A matter of perception: Exploring the role of income satisfaction in the income–mortality relationship in German survey data 1995–2010," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 99(C), pages 72-79.
  9. Thomas Vartanian & Linda Houser, 2012. "The Effects of Childhood SNAP Use and Neighborhood Conditions on Adult Body Mass Index," Demography, Springer, vol. 49(3), pages 1127-1154, August.

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