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Life Satisfaction and Relative Income: Perceptions and Evidence

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  • Guy Mayraz
  • Jürgen Schupp
  • Gert G. Wagner

Abstract

Using a unique dataset we study both the actual and self-perceived relationship between subjective well-being and income comparisons against a wide range of potential comparison groups, enabling us to investigate a broader range of questions than in previous studies. In questions inserted into a 2008 module of the German-Socio Economic Panel Study we ask subjects to report (a) how their income compares to various groups, such a co-workers, friends, and neighbours, and (b) how important these income comparisons are to them. We find substantial gender differences, with income comparisons being much better predictors of subjective well-being in men than in women. Generic (same-gender) comparisons are the most important, followed by within profession comparisons. Once generic and within-profession comparisons are controlled for, income relative to neighbours has a negative coefficient, implying that living in a high-income neighbourhood increases happiness. The perceived importance of income comparisons is found to be uncorrelated with its actual relationship to subjective well-being, suggesting that people are unconscious of its real impact. Subjects who judge comparisons to be important are, however, significantly less happy than subjects who see income comparisons as unimportant. Finally, the marginal effect of relative income on subjective well-being does not depend on whether a subject is below or above the reference group income.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Centre for Economic Performance, LSE in its series CEP Discussion Papers with number dp0938.

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Date of creation: Jul 2009
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Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp0938

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Web page: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/series.asp?prog=CEP

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Keywords: Income Comparisons; Relative Income; Life Satisfaction; German Socio Economic Panel; SOEP;

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References

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  1. Clark, Andrew E. & Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," IZA Discussion Papers 2840, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Layard, R. & Mayraz, G. & Nickell, S., 2008. "The marginal utility of income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(8-9), pages 1846-1857, August.
  3. AndrewE. Clark & Claudia Senik, 2010. "Who Compares to Whom? The Anatomy of Income Comparisons in Europe," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 120(544), pages 573-594, 05.
  4. Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 10667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Senik, Claudia, 2007. "Direct Evidence on Income Comparisons and their Welfare Effects," IZA Discussion Papers 3195, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Robert H. Frank, 2005. "Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 137-141, May.
  7. McBride, Michael, 2001. "Relative-income effects on subjective well-being in the cross-section," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 251-278, July.
  8. John Knight & Lina Song, 2007. "Subjective Well-being and its Determinants in Rural China," Economics Series Working Papers 334, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  9. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, . "What can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," IEW - Working Papers 080, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  10. Joerg Dittmann & Jan Goebel, 2010. "Your House, Your Car, Your Education: The Socioeconomic Situation of the Neighborhood and its Impact on Life Satisfaction in Germany," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 96(3), pages 497-513, May.
  11. Conchita D’Ambrosio & Joachim Frick, 2007. "Income Satisfaction and Relative Deprivation: An Empirical Link," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 81(3), pages 497-519, May.
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Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. How does income inequality affect happiness?
    by Winton Bates in Freedom and Flourishing on 2012-02-09 06:07:00
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Cited by:
  1. Cristina Blanco-Perez, 2012. "Rethinking the Relative Income Hypothesis," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 501, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  2. Pischke, Jörn-Steffen, 2011. "Money and Happiness: Evidence from the Industry Wage Structure," IZA Discussion Papers 5705, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Schneck, Stefan, 2014. "My Wage is Unfair! Just a Feeling or Comparison with Peers?," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 1-32.
  4. Vendrik, Maarten C.M., 2013. "Adaptation, anticipation and social interaction in happiness: An integrated error-correction approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 131-149.
  5. Stefan Schneck, 2011. "The Effect of Relative Standing on Considerations about Self-Employment," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 426, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  6. Yamada, Katsunori & Sato, Masayuki, 2013. "Another avenue for anatomy of income comparisons: Evidence from hypothetical choice experiments," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 35-57.
  7. Simone Schneider, 2010. "The Selection of Pay Referents: Potential Patterns and Impacts on Life Satisfaction," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 333, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  8. Lohmann, Steffen, 2013. "Information technologies and subjective well-being: Does the internet raise material aspirations?," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 169, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
  9. Joachim Merz & Tim Rathjen, 2011. "Zeit- und Einkommensarmut von Freien Berufen und Unternehmern," FFB-Discussionpaper 89, Research Institute on Professions (Forschungsinstitut Freie Berufe (FFB)), LEUPHANA University Lüneburg.
  10. Lohmann, Steffen, 2013. "Information technologies and subjective well-being: Do material aspirations rise?," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79708, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
  11. Konstantin Kehl & Stephan Stahlschmidt, 2013. "A new perspective on the economic valuation of informal caare: The well-being approach revisited," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2013-035, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
  12. Andrew Clark & Claudia Senik & Katsunori Yamada, 2013. "The Joneses in Japan: Income Comparisons and Financial Satisfaction," ISER Discussion Paper 0866, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
  13. Grund, Christian & Martin, Johannes, 2012. "Monetary Reference Points of Managers: An Empirical Investigation of Status Quo Preferences and Social Comparisons," IZA Discussion Papers 7097, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  14. Joachim Merz & Henning Stolze, 2010. "Kumulation von Querschnitten - Evaluierung alternativer Konzepte für die kumulierten laufenden Wirtschaftsrechnungen 1999 bis 2003 im Vergleich zur Einkommens- und Verbrauchsstichprobe 2003," FFB-Discussionpaper 85, Research Institute on Professions (Forschungsinstitut Freie Berufe (FFB)), LEUPHANA University Lüneburg.

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