IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

Climbing up the Social Ladders: Identity, Relative Income, and Subjective Well-being

  • Wen-Chun Chang


This study incorporates the concept of identity to explain the relationship between relative income and subjective well-being. Based upon the theoretical framework of an identity model developed by Akerlof and Kranton Q J Econ 115:715–753, ( 2000 ), the empirical findings of this study suggest that an increase in relative income leads to a gain in positional identity and therefore raises the level of subjective well-being. This approach extends our understanding about the connection between positional concern and subjective well-being and explains the importance of social comparison in shaping individuals’ preferences and tastes. People are concerned about their relative income as it represents a positional identity of social status, dependent upon ideals and norms derived from the interactions between an individual and others within a society. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2013

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Springer in its journal Social Indicators Research.

Volume (Year): 113 (2013)
Issue (Month): 1 (August)
Pages: 513-535

in new window

Handle: RePEc:spr:soinre:v:113:y:2013:i:1:p:513-535
Contact details of provider: Web page:

Order Information: Web:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. van Praag, Bernard M. S., 2010. "Well-being Inequality and Reference Groups: An Agenda for New Research," IZA Discussion Papers 4727, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Varian, Hal R., 1974. "Equity, envy, and efficiency," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 63-91, September.
  3. Mui, Vai-Lam, 1995. "The economics of envy," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 311-336, May.
  4. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1994. "Satisfaction and comparison income," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9408, CEPREMAP.
  5. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
  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. Oswald, Andrew J, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1815-31, November.
  8. Akerlof George A & Kranton Rachel, 2010. "Identity Economics," The Economists' Voice, De Gruyter, vol. 7(2), pages 1-3, June.
  9. John B. Davis, 2005. "Social Identity Strategies in Recent Economics," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 05-078/2, Tinbergen Institute.
  10. Cooper, B. & Garcia-Penalosa, C., 1998. "Status Effects and Neganive Utility Growth," Economics Papers 150, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  11. Alpizar, Francisco & Carlsson, Fredrik & Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2001. "How Much Do We Care About Absolute Versus Relative Income and Consumption?," Working Papers in Economics 63, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  12. Andrew E. Clark & Nicolai Kristensen & Niels Westergård-Nielsen, 2008. "Economic satisfaction and income rank in small neighbourhoods," PSE Working Papers halshs-00586254, HAL.
  13. Claudia Senik, 2008. "Ambition and Jealousy: Income Interactions in the 'Old' Europe versus the 'New' Europe and the United States," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 75(299), pages 495-513, 08.
  14. Harold L. Cole & George J. Mailath & Andrew Postlewaite, . ""Class Systems and the Enforcement of Social Norms''," CARESS Working Papres 96-04, University of Pennsylvania Center for Analytic Research and Economics in the Social Sciences.
  15. Alois Stutzer, . "The Role of Income Aspirations in Individual Happiness," IEW - Working Papers 124, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  16. Andrew Clark, . "Job Satisfaction and Gender. Why are Women so Happy at Work?," Economics Discussion Papers 415, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
  17. 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.
  18. Klor, Esteban F. & Shayo, Moses, 2010. "Social identity and preferences over redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(3-4), pages 269-278, April.
  19. Senik, Claudia, 2004. "When information dominates comparison: Learning from Russian subjective panel data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2099-2123, August.
  20. Tara Watson & Sara McLanahan, 2010. "Marriage Meets the Joneses: Relative Income, Identity, and Marital Status," Department of Economics Working Papers 2010-06, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  21. van de Stadt, Huib & Kapteyn, Arie & van de Geer, Sara, 1985. "The Relativity of Utility: Evidence from Panel Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 67(2), pages 179-87, May.
  22. Senik, Claudia, 2007. "Direct Evidence on Income Comparisons and their Welfare Effects," IZA Discussion Papers 3195, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  23. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 616, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  24. John Helliwell, 2007. "Well-Being and Social Capital: Does Suicide Pose a Puzzle?," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 81(3), pages 455-496, May.
  25. Edward L. Glaeser & David Laibson & Bruce Sacerdote, 2002. "An Economic Approach to Social Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(483), pages 437-458, November.
  26. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2005. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 120(3), pages 963-1002, August.
  27. John B. Davis, 2007. "Akerlof and Kranton on identity in economics: inverting the analysis," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 31(3), pages 349-362, May.
  28. Booth, A.L. & van Ours, J.C., 2006. "Hours of Work and Gender Identity : Does Part-time Work make the Family Happier?," Discussion Paper 2006-2, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  29. Daniel Miles & Maximo Rossi, 2007. "Learning about one's relative position and subjective well-being," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(13), pages 1711-1718.
  30. Olof Johansson-Stenman & Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala, 2002. "Measuring Future Grandparents" Preferences for Equality and Relative Standing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 362-383, April.
  31. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2000. "Happiness, Economy and Institutions," CESifo Working Paper Series 246, CESifo Group Munich.
  32. repec:chk:cuhked:_081 is not listed on IDEAS
  33. Sara J. Solnick & David Hemenway, 2005. "Are Positional Concerns Stronger in Some Domains than in Others?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 147-151, May.
  34. Hung-Lin Tao & Shih-Yung Chiu, 2009. "The Effects of Relative Income and Absolute Income on Happiness," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(1), pages 164-174, 02.
  35. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada, 2005. "Income and well-being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 997-1019, June.
  36. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics And Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753, August.
  37. McIntosh, James & Munk, Martin D., 2009. "Social class, family background, and intergenerational mobility," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 107-117, January.
  38. Carlsson, Fredrik & Johansson-Stenman, Olof & Martinsson, Peter, 2003. "Do You Enjoy Having More Than Others? Survey Evidence of Positional Goods," Working Papers in Economics 100, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  39. 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.
  40. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1997. "A Case for Happiness, Cardinalism, and Interpersonal Comparability," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1848-58, November.
  41. Veblen, Thorstein, 1899. "The Theory of the Leisure Class," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number veblen1899.
  42. Easterlin, Richard A, 2001. "Income and Happiness: Towards an Unified Theory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(473), pages 465-84, July.
  43. George A. Akerlof, 1997. "Social Distance and Social Decisions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(5), pages 1005-1028, September.
  44. Sen, Amartya, 1985. "Goals, Commitment, and Identity," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(2), pages 341-55, Fall.
  45. Pingle, Mark & Mitchell, Mike, 2002. "What motivates positional concerns for income?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 127-148, February.
  46. Fredrik Carlsson & Gautam Gupta & Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2009. "Keeping up with the Vaishyas? Caste and relative standing in India," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 61(1), pages 52-73, January.
  47. Brennan, Geoffrey, 1973. "Pareto desirable redistribution: the case of malice and envy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(2), pages 173-183, April.
  48. Solnick, Sara J. & Hong, Li & Hemenway, David, 2007. "Positional goods in the United States and China," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 537-545, August.
  49. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
  50. Frank, Robert H, 1985. "The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 101-16, March.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:spr:soinre:v:113:y:2013:i:1:p:513-535. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla)

or (Christopher F Baum)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.