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Relative status and well-being: evidence from U.S. suicide deaths

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  • Mary C. Daly
  • Daniel J. Wilson
  • Norman J. Johnson

Abstract

This paper empirically assesses the theory of interpersonal income comparison using individual level data on suicide deaths in the United States. We model suicide as a choice variable, conditional on exogenous risk factors, reflecting an individual's assessment of current and expected future utility. Our empirical analysis considers whether suicide risk is systematically related to the income of others, holding own income and other individual factors fixed. We estimate proportional hazards and probit models of the suicide hazard using two separate and independent data sets: (1) the National Longitudinal Mortality Study and (2) the Detailed Mortality Files combined with the 5 percent Public Use Micro Sample of the 1990 decennial census. Results from both data sources show that, controlling for own income and individual characteristics, individual suicide risk rises with reference group income. This result holds for reference groups defined broadly, such as by county, and more narrowly by county and one demographic marker (e.g., age, sex, race). These findings are robust to alternative specifications and cannot be explained by geographic variation in cost of living, access to emergency medical care, mismeasurement of deaths by suicide, or by bias due to endogeneity of own income. Our results confirm findings using self-reported happiness data and are consistent with models of utility featuring "external habit" or "Keeping Up with the Joneses" preferences.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in its series Working Paper Series with number 2007-12.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2007-12

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Keywords: Income distribution ; Suicide;

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  1. Murphy, Kevin M & Topel, Robert H, 2002. "Estimation and Inference in Two-Step Econometric Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(1), pages 88-97, January.
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  17. Mary C. Daly & Daniel J. Wilson, 2006. "Keeping up with the Joneses and staying ahead of the Smiths: evidence from suicide data," Working Paper Series 2006-12, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  18. Dave E. Marcotte, 2003. "The Economics of Suicide, Revisited," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 628-643, January.
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Cited by:
  1. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Subjective Well-Being as Welfare Measure: Concepts and Methodology," MPRA Paper 16619, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Tara Watson & Sara McLanahan, 2009. "Marriage Meets the Joneses: Relative Income, Identity, and Marital Status," Working Papers 1141, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..
  3. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald & Bert Van Landeghem, 2008. "Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility," NBER Working Papers 14337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Patrick Pintus & Yi Wen, 2013. "Leveraged Borrowing and Boom-Bust Cycles," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(4), pages 617-633, October.
  5. Campaniello, Nadia & Diasakos, Theodoros & Mastrobuoni, Giovanni, 2014. "Rationalizable Suicides: Evidence from Changes in Inmates' Expected Length of Sentence," IZA Discussion Papers 8333, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Shin S. Ikeda, 2013. "A Contingent Claim Analysis of Suicide," GRIPS Discussion Papers 13-05, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

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