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Inequality and Happiness: When Perceived Social Mobility and Economic Reality do not Match

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

Abstract

In this paper, we revisit the association between happiness and inequality. We argue that the interaction between the perceived and the actual fairness of the income generation process affects this association. Building on a simple model of individual labor-market participation under uncertainty, we predict that higher levels of perceived fairness cause higher levels of utility, and lower preferred levels of income redistribution. In societies with a low level of actual social mobility, income inequality is perceived more negatively with increased perceived fairness, due to the need for unexpected policy changes as a response to many unsuccessful investments of overly optimistic individuals. This effect becomes smaller as actual social mobility increases. Using data on happiness and a broad set of fairness measures from the World Values Survey, we find strong support for the negative (positive) association between fairness perceptions and the demand for more equal incomes (subjective wellbeing). We also find strong empirical support for the disappointment effect in countries with low social mobility. Consistent with our theoretical model, the results for high-mobility countries turn out to be ambiguous.

Suggested Citation

  • Christian Bjørnskov & Axel Dreher & Justina A.V. Fischer & Jan Schnellenbach, 2010. "Inequality and Happiness: When Perceived Social Mobility and Economic Reality do not Match," CESifo Working Paper Series 3216, CESifo.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3216
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. 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, July.
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    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Inequality and happiness: When perceived social mobility and economic reality do not match
      by maximorossi in NEP-LTV blog on 2010-12-21 19:54:59

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Bjørnskov, Christian & Dreher, Axel & Fischer, Justina A.V. & Schnellenbach, Jan & Gehring, Kai, 2013. "Inequality and happiness: When perceived social mobility and economic reality do not match," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 75-92.
    2. Jesper Rözer & Gerbert Kraaykamp, 2013. "Income Inequality and Subjective Well-being: A Cross-National Study on the Conditional Effects of Individual and National Characteristics," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 113(3), pages 1009-1023, September.
    3. Justina A.V. Fischer & Benno Torgler, 2013. "Do Positional Concerns Destroy Social Capital: Evidence From 26 Countries," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 51(2), pages 1542-1565, April.
    4. Justina A.V. Fischer & Benno Torgler, 2013. "Do Positional Concerns Destroy Social Capital: Evidence From 26 Countries," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 51(2), pages 1542-1565, April.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    happiness; life satisfaction; subjective well-being; inequality; income distribution; redistribution; political ideology; justice; fairness; World Values Survey;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • H40 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - General
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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