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On the relation between income inequality and happiness: Do fairness perceptions matter?

  • Bjørnskov, Christian
  • Dreher, Axel
  • Fischer, Justina A. V.
  • Schnellenbach, Jan

In this paper, we revisit the association between happiness and inequality. We argue that the perceived fairness of the income generation process affects this association. Building on a two-period model of individual life-time utility maximization, we predict that persons with higher perceived fairness will experience higher levels of life-time utility and are less in favor of income redistribution. In societies with a high level of actual social mobility, income inequality is perceived more positively with increased expected fairness. The opposite is expected for countries with low actual social mobility, due to an increasing relevance of a disappointment effect resulting from unsuccessful individual investments. Using the World Values Survey data and a broad set of fairness measures, we find strong support for the negative (positive) association between fairness perceptions and the demand for more equal incomes (subjective well-being). We also find strong empirical support for the disappointment effect in low social mobility countries. In contrast, the results for high-mobility countries turn out to be ambiguous.

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Paper provided by University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 0495.

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Date of creation: 15 Jan 2010
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Handle: RePEc:awi:wpaper:0495
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  1. La Ferrara, Eliana & Alesina, Alberto, 2005. "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," Scholarly Articles 4552533, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. Alberto Alesina & Eliana La Ferrara, 2001. "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1936, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  3. Dohmen, Thomas & Falk, Armin & Huffman, David & Marklein, Felix & Sunde, Uwe, 2009. "Biased probability judgment: Evidence of incidence and relationship to economic outcomes from a representative sample," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(3), pages 903-915, December.
  4. Frey, Bruno S. & Stutzer, Alois, 2002. "Beyond Outcomes: Measuring Procedural Utility," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt7qp9q1js, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  5. Hopkins, Ed, 2008. "Inequality, Happiness and Relative Concerns: What Actually is their Relationship?," SIRE Discussion Papers 2008-01, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
  6. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2000. "Who wants to redistribute?: The tunnel effect in 1990s Russia," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 87-104, April.
  7. Alberto Alesina & Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2001. "Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?," NBER Working Papers 8198, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Irena Grosfeld & Claudia Senik, 2009. "The emerging aversion to inequality - Evidence from long subjective data," PSE Working Papers halshs-00586788, HAL.
  9. Richard Layard & Guy Mayraz & Stephen Nickell, 2009. "Does Relative Income Matter?: Are the Critics Right?," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 210, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  10. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Subjective Well-Being as Welfare Measure: Concepts and Methodology," MPRA Paper 16619, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  11. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1998. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition and Cooperation," CEPR Discussion Papers 1812, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  12. Justina A.V. Fischer, 2009. "The Welfare Effects of Social Mobility," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 93, OECD Publishing.
  13. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Happiness and age cycles – return to start…," MPRA Paper 15249, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  14. Christian Bjørnskov & Axel Dreher & Justina A. V. Fischer, 2006. "Cross-country determinants of life satisfaction: exploring different determinants across groups in society," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19290, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  15. 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.
  16. Kohei Kawamura, 2008. "Inequality, Happiness and Relative Concerns: What Actually is their Relationship?," ESE Discussion Papers 182, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  17. Ruut Veenhoven, 2000. "The Four Qualities of Life," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 1-39, March.
  18. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2004. "How Important is Methodology for the estimates of the determinants of Happiness?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 641-659, 07.
  19. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 2000. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," NBER Working Papers 7487, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Justina A.V. Fischer, 2009. "Happiness and Age Cycles - Return to Start...?: On the Functional Relationship between Subjective Well-Being and Age," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 99, OECD Publishing.
  21. Corneo, Giacomo & Grüner, Hans Peter, 2001. "Individual Preferences for Political Redistribution," CEPR Discussion Papers 2694, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  22. Andrew E. Clark & Emanuela D'Angelo, 2013. "Upward Social Mobility, Well-being and Political Preferences: Evidence from the BHPS," CEP Discussion Papers dp1252, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  23. Hirschman, Albert O., 1973. "The changing tolerance for income inequality in the course of economic development," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 1(12), pages 29-36, December.
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