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Life Satisfaction and Relative Income: Perceptions and Evidence

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Author Info

  • Guy Mayraz
  • Gert G. Wagner
  • Jürgen Schupp

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 DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in its series SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research with number 214.

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Length: 22 p.
Date of creation: 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp214

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

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References

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  1. 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.
  2. Claudia Senik, 2008. "Direct evidence on income comparisons and their welfare effects," PSE Working Papers halshs-00588023, HAL.
  3. Richard Layard & Guy Mayraz & Stephen J. Nickell, 2007. "The Marginal Utility of Income," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 50, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  4. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2008. "Relative Income, Happiness, and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(1), pages 95-144, March.
  5. 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.
  6. Andrew E. Clark & Claudia Senik, 2009. "Who compares to whom? The anatomy of income comparisons in Europe," PSE Working Papers halshs-00586036, HAL.
  7. Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 10667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2002. "What Can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 402-435, June.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
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Blog mentions

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  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. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Schneck, Stefan, 2013. "My Wage is Unfair! Just a Feeling or Comparison with Peers?," EconStor Preprints 70096, ZBW - German National Library of Economics.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. Katsunori Yamada & Masayuki Sato, 2010. "Another Avenue for Anatomy of Income Comparisons: Evidence from Hypothetical Choice Experiments," ISER Discussion Paper 0795, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University, revised Mar 2013.
  9. 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.
  10. Cristina Blanco-Perez, 2012. "Rethinking the Relative Income Hypothesis," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 501, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  11. 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.
  12. Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2011. "Money and Happiness: Evidence from the Industry Wage Structure," NBER Working Papers 17056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. 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).
  14. 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.

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