IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

One man's rags are another man's riches: Identifying adaptive preferences using panel data

  • Tania Burchardt
Registered author(s):

    One of the motivations frequently cited by Sen and Nussbaum for moving away from a utility metric towards a capabilities framework is a concern about adaptive preferences or conditioned expectations. If utility is related to the satisfaction of aspirations or expectations, and if these are affected by the individual's previous experience of deprivation or wealth, then utility cannot provide a basis for assessing well-being, equality or social justice which is independent of the initial distribution. This paper contributes to the identification of adaptive expectations by using ten years of panel data from the British Household Panel Survey to study the process of adaptation based on the individual's own previous experience. Subjective assessments of financial well-being at time t, for individuals with a given income level, are compared according to the income trajectory of the individual over the previous one to nine years. Descriptive statistics are followed by multivariate analysis, introducing controls for changes in need (family size and composition, disability), and possible social reference groups (for example, ethnicity and employment status). Fixed effects regressions allow for individual variation in the scaling of satisfaction. The results show that year on year, individuals who have experienced a fall in income since the previous year are less satisfied than those who have a steady income, suggesting that subjective assessments may be made in comparison with previous experience. Surprisingly, individuals who have experienced an increase in income are also less satisfied. This suggests that income is a poor proxy for satisfaction but it does not provide firm evidence for the existence of adaptation over the short term. Over a longer period, those who have experienced falling incomes are less satisfied than those who have had constant income, while those who have experienced rising incomes are no more satisfied than those who have had constant incomes. This suggests that over a longer period, adaptation to changes in income is asymmetric: people adapt to rising incomes but less so falling incomes. The paper concludes that satisfaction with income is influenced by objective circumstances, and to changes in objective circumstances, in complex ways. In particular, the process of adaptation to rises in income masks long-term differences in outcomes for individuals and makes subjective assessments of well-being a flawed basis for judgements of inequality or social justice. An objective normative standard, such as is offered by the capabilities framework, avoids social evaluations being unduly influenced by individuals' past experiences.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/cp/CASEpaper86.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE in its series CASE Papers with number 086.

    as
    in new window

    Length:
    Date of creation: Dec 2004
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:cep:sticas:086
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/case/_new/publications/default.asp

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    as in new window
    1. Stutzer, Alois, 2004. "The role of income aspirations in individual happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 89-109, May.
    2. Ed Diener & Ed Sandvik & Larry Seidlitz & Marissa Diener, 1993. "The relationship between income and subjective well-being: Relative or absolute?," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 28(3), pages 195-223, March.
    3. Oswald, Andrew, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 478, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    4. Angelique Chan & Mary Ofstedal & Albert Hermalin, 2002. "Changes in Subjective and Objective Measures of Economic Well-Being and Their Interrelationship among the Elderly in Singapore and Taiwan," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 57(3), pages 263-300, March.
    5. Clark, Andrew E., 1999. "Are wages habit-forming? evidence from micro data," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(2), pages 179-200, June.
    6. C. Graham & S. Pettinato, 2002. "Frustrated Achievers: Winners, Losers and Subjective Well-Being in New Market Economies," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 38(4), pages 100-140.
    7. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2000. "Identifying welfare effects from subjective questions," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2301, The World Bank.
    8. Tomes, Nigel, 1986. "Income distribution, happiness and satisfaction: A direct test of the interdependent preferences model," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 7(4), pages 425-446, December.
    9. Gardiner, Karen & Hills, John, 1999. "Policy Implications of New Data on Income Mobility," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 109(453), pages F91-111, February.
    10. Easterlin, Richard A, 2001. "Income and Happiness: Towards an Unified Theory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(473), pages 465-84, July.
    11. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
    12. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2002. "What Can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 402-435, June.
    13. 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.
    14. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
    15. Frank, Robert H, 1997. "The Frame of Reference as a Public Good," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1832-47, November.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cep:sticas:086. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.