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Why income comparison is rational

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  • Wolpert, David H.

Abstract

A major factor affecting a person's happiness is the gap between their income and their neighbors', independent of their own income. This effect is strongest when the neighbor has moderately higher income. In addition a person's lifetime happiness often follows a "U" shape. Previous models have explained subsets of these phenomena, typically assuming the person has limited ability to assess their own (hedonic) utility. Here I present a model that explains all the phenomena, without such assumptions. In this model greater income of your neighbor is statistical data that, if carefully analyzed, would recommend that you explore for a new income-generating strategy. This explains unhappiness that your neighbor has greater income, as an emotional "prod" that induces you to explore, in accord with careful statistical analysis. It explains the "U" shape of happiness similarly. Another benefit of this model is that it makes many falsifiable predictions.

Suggested Citation

  • Wolpert, David H., 2010. "Why income comparison is rational," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 69(2), pages 458-474, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:gamebe:v:69:y:2010:i:2:p:458-474
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Frijters, Paul & Beatton, Tony, 2012. "The mystery of the U-shaped relationship between happiness and age," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 525-542.
    2. Ateca Amestoy, Victoria María & Cortés Aguilar, Alexandra & Moro-Egido, Ana I., 2011. "Social Interactions and Subjective Well-Being: Evidence from Latin America," DFAEII Working Papers 2011-05, University of the Basque Country - Department of Foundations of Economic Analysis II.
    3. Aronsson, Thomas & Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2015. "Keeping up with the Joneses, the Smiths and the Tanakas: On international tax coordination and social comparisons," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 71-86.
    4. Victoria Ateca-Amestoy & Alexandra Aguilar & Ana Moro-Egido, 2014. "Social Interactions and Life Satisfaction: Evidence from Latin America," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 15(3), pages 527-554, June.

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