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Choosing to keep up with the Joneses

  • Richard Barnett
  • Joydeep Bhattacharya
  • Helle Bunzel

    ()

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

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.

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Paper provided by School of Economics and Management, University of Aarhus in its series Economics Working Papers with number 2008-01.

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Length: 25
Date of creation: 10 Jan 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:aah:aarhec:2008-01
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.au.dk/afn/

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  1. Gali, J., 1992. "Keeping Up with the Joneses: Consumption Externalities, Portfolio Choice and Asset Prices," Papers 92-22, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
  2. Andrew B. Abel, . "Asset Prices Under Habit Formation and Catching Up With the Jones," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 1-90, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  3. Edward C. Prescott, 2004. "Why do Americans Work so Much More than Europeans?," NBER Working Papers 10316, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. E. Glaeser & B. Sacerdote & Jose A. Scheinkman, 2003. "The Social Multiplier," Levine's Working Paper Archive 506439000000000130, David K. Levine.
  5. Ed Hopkins & Tatiana Kornienko, 2004. "Running to Keep in the Same Place: Consumer Choice as a Game of Status," ESE Discussion Papers 92, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  6. Linda A. Bell & Richard B. Freeman, 2000. "The Incentive for Working Hard: Explaining Hours Worked Differences in the U.S. and Germany," NBER Working Papers 8051, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Falk, Armin & Knell, Markus, 2004. "Choosing the Joneses: Endogenous Goals and Reference Standards," IZA Discussion Papers 1152, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  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.
  9. Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 10667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. 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 329-48, June.
  11. 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.
  12. Samuel Bowles & Yongjin Park, 2003. "Emulation, Inequality, and Work Hours: Was Thorsten Veblen Right," Department of Economics University of Siena 409, Department of Economics, University of Siena.
  13. 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.
  14. Bill Dupor & Wen-Fang Liu, 2003. "Jealousy and Equilibrium Overconsumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 423-428, March.
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