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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
Handle: RePEc:awi:wpaper:0495
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  1. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, "undated". "A Theory of Fairness, Competition and Cooperation," IEW - Working Papers 004, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  2. Alberto Alesina & Eliana La Ferrara, 2001. "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," NBER Working Papers 8267, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Corneo, Giacomo & Gruner, Hans Peter, 2002. "Individual preferences for political redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 83-107, January.
  4. Justina A.V. Fischer, 2009. "The Welfare Effects of Social Mobility," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 93, OECD Publishing.
  5. Christian Bjørnskov & Axel Dreher & Justina Fischer, 2008. "Cross-country determinants of life satisfaction: exploring different determinants across groups in society," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 30(1), pages 119-173, January.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, "undated". "Beyond Outcomes: Measuring Procedural Utility," IEW - Working Papers 076, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  9. Richard Layard & Guy Mayraz & Stephen Nickell, 2009. "Does Relative Income Matter? Are the Critics Right?," CEP Discussion Papers dp0918, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  10. 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.
  11. Clark, Andrew E. & Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," IZA Discussion Papers 2840, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  12. La Ferrara, Eliana & Alesina, Alberto, 2005. "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," Scholarly Articles 4552533, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  13. Ed Hopkins, 2008. "Inequality, happiness and relative concerns: What actually is their relationship?," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 6(4), pages 351-372, December.
  14. Thomas Dohmen & Armin Falk & David Huffman & Felix Marklein & Uwe Sunde, 2009. "Biased Probability Judgment: Evidence of Incidence and Relationship to Economic Outcomes From a Representative Sample," Post-Print hal-00723191, HAL.
  15. Ruut Veenhoven, 2000. "The Four Qualities of Life," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 1-39, March.
  16. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Subjective Well-Being as Welfare Measure: Concepts and Methodology," MPRA Paper 16619, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  17. Andrew CLARK & Emanuela D'ANGELO, 2010. "Upward Social Mobility, Well-being and;Political Preferences: Evidence from the;BHPS," Working Papers 338, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Happiness and age cycles – return to start…," MPRA Paper 15249, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  21. Kohei Kawamura, 2008. "Communication for Public Goods," ESE Discussion Papers 182, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  22. 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.
  23. Irena Grosfeld & Claudia Senik, 2009. "The emerging aversion to inequality - Evidence from long subjective data," PSE Working Papers halshs-00586788, HAL.
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