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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Pham-Kanter, Genevieve, 2009. "Social comparisons and health: Can having richer friends and neighbors make you sick?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(3), pages 335-344, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:69:y:2009:i:3:p:335-344
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Siddiqi, Arjumand & Jones, Marcella K. & Erwin, Paul Campbell, 2015. "Does higher income inequality adversely influence infant mortality rates? Reconciling descriptive patterns and recent research findings," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 82-88.
    2. Andrew J. Oswald & Stephen Wu, 2011. "Well-Being across America," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(4), pages 1118-1134, November.
    3. Hilda Osafo Hounkpatin & Alex Wood & Gordon Brown & Graham Dunn, 2015. "Why does Income Relate to Depressive Symptoms? Testing the Income Rank Hypothesis Longitudinally," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 124(2), pages 637-655, November.
    4. 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.
    5. Song, Lijun, 2015. "Does who you know in the positional hierarchy protect or hurt? Social capital, comparative reference group, and depression in two societies," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 136, pages 117-127.
    6. 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.
    7. 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;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 33(1), pages 31-61, February.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. Thomas Vartanian & Linda Houser, 2012. "The Effects of Childhood SNAP Use and Neighborhood Conditions on Adult Body Mass Index," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 49(3), pages 1127-1154, August.
    12. Hyll, Walter & Schneider, Lutz, 2017. "Income Comparisons and Attitudes towards Foreigners," Annual Conference 2017 (Vienna): Alternative Structures for Money and Banking 168069, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    13. Hounkpatin, Hilda Osafo & Wood, Alex M. & Dunn, Graham, 2016. "Does income relate to health due to psychosocial or material factors? Consistent support for the psychosocial hypothesis requires operationalization with income rank not the Yitzhaki Index," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 150(C), pages 76-84.

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