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Choosing to keep up with the Joneses

Author

Listed:
  • Richard Barnett
  • Joydeep Bhattacharya
  • Helle Bunzel

    () (School of Economics and Management, University of Aarhus, Denmark)

Abstract

Does a rise in income inequality induce people to work harder to stay in the rat race (“keep up with the Joneses”) or to simply drop out? We investigate this issue in a simple new framework in which heterogeneous ability agents get extra utility if their consumption keeps up with the economy’s average. The novelty is that agents are allowed to choose whether they want to stay in or drop out of the rat race. We show that sufficiently high ability agents choose to keep up with the Joneses and they enjoy higher consumption but lower leisure than those who don’t. When income inequality rises in a mean-preserving manner, average leisure in the economy may fall. Our analysis touches on the question, why are Americans working so much compared to the Europeans? We posit that higher income inequality in the US, by inducing more people to join the rat race there, may be partly responsible for the transatlantic leisure divide.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Barnett & Joydeep Bhattacharya & Helle Bunzel, 2008. "Choosing to keep up with the Joneses," Economics Working Papers 2008-01, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University.
  • Handle: RePEc:aah:aarhec:2008-01
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    File URL: ftp://ftp.econ.au.dk/afn/wp/08/wp08_01.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bill Dupor & Wen-Fang Liu, 2003. "Jealousy and Equilibrium Overconsumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 423-428, March.
    2. Bell, Linda A. & Freeman, Richard B., 2001. "The incentive for working hard: explaining hours worked differences in the US and Germany," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 181-202, May.
    3. Edward C. Prescott, 2004. "Why do Americans work so much more than Europeans?," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Jul, pages 2-13.
    4. Gali, Jordi, 1994. "Keeping Up with the Joneses: Consumption Externalities, Portfolio Choice, and Asset Prices," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 26(1), pages 1-8, February.
    5. Harald Uhlig & Lars Ljungqvist, 2000. "Tax Policy and Aggregate Demand Management under Catching Up with the Joneses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 356-366, June.
    6. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce I. Sacerdote & Jose A. Scheinkman, 2003. "The Social Multiplier," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(2-3), pages 345-353, 04/05.
    7. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2005. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 963-1002.
    8. Alonso-Carrera, Jaime & Caballe, Jordi & Raurich, Xavier, 2005. "Growth, habit formation, and catching-up with the Joneses," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 49(6), pages 1665-1691, August.
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    11. Ed Hopkins & Tatiana Kornienko, 2004. "Running to Keep in the Same Place: Consumer Choice as a Game of Status," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1085-1107, September.
    12. Frank, Robert H, 1985. "The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 101-116, March.
    13. Samuel Bowles & Yongjin Park, 2005. "Emulation, Inequality, and Work Hours: Was Thorsten Veblen Right?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(507), pages 397-412, November.
    14. Landers, Renee M & Rebitzer, James B & Taylor, Lowell J, 1996. "Rat Race Redux: Adverse Selection in the Determination of Work Hours in Law Firms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 329-348, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Yutaro Hatta, 2013. "Wealth Distribution Dynamics with Status Preference: asymmetric motivations for status," Discussion Papers in Economics and Business 13-08, Osaka University, Graduate School of Economics and Osaka School of International Public Policy (OSIPP).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    keeping up with the Joneses; consumption externalities; leisure;

    JEL classification:

    • E2 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

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