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Relative Payoffs And Happiness: An Experimental Study

  • Charness, Gary B
  • Grosskopf, Brit

Some current utility models presume that people are concerned with their relative standing in a reference group. If this is true, do certain types care more about this than others? Using simple binary decisions and self-reported happiness, we investigate both the prevalence of “difference aversion†and whether happiness levels influence the taste for social comparisons. Our decision tasks distinguish between a person’s desire to achieving the social optimum, equality or advantageous relative standing. Most people appear to disregard relative payoffs, instead typically making choices resulting in higher social payoffs. While we do not find a strong general correlation between happiness and concern for relative payoffs, we do observe that a willingness to lower another person’s payoff below one’s own (competitive preferences) seems correlated with unhappiness.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara in its series University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series with number qt8389x8z2.

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Date of creation: 01 Jan 2000
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Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt8389x8z2
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  1. 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.
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  10. Akerlof, George A & Yellen, Janet L, 1990. "The Fair Wage-Effort Hypothesis and Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(2), pages 255-83, May.
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  13. Engelmann, Dirk & Strobel, Martin, 1999. "The false consensus effect disappears if representative information and monetary incentives are given," SFB 373 Discussion Papers 1999,66, Humboldt University of Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Project 373: Quantification and Simulation of Economic Processes.
  14. Offerman, Theo & Sonnemans, Joep & Schram, Arthur, 1996. "Value Orientations, Expectations and Voluntary Contributions in Public Goods," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(437), pages 817-45, July.
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  16. Bewley, Truman F., 1998. "Why not cut pay?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(3-5), pages 459-490, May.
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  18. Guth, Werner & Schmittberger, Rolf & Schwarze, Bernd, 1982. "An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 367-388, December.
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