IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

So Far so Good: Age, Happiness, and Relative Income

  • Felix R. FitzRoy
  • Michael A. Nolan
  • Max F. Steinhardt
  • David Ulph

In a simple 2-period model of relative income under uncertainty, higher comparison income for the younger cohort can signal higher or lower expected lifetime relative income, and hence either increase or decrease well-being. With data from the German Socio-Economic Panel and the British Household Panel Survey, we first confirm the standard negative effects of comparison income on life satisfaction with all age groups, and many controls. However when we split the West German sample by age we find a positive significant effect of comparison income in the under 45s, and the usual negative effect only in the over 45 group. With the same split in UK and East German data, comparison income loses significance, which is consistent with the model prediction for the younger group. Our results provide first evidence that the standard aggregation with only a quadratic control for age can obscure major differences in the effects of relative income.

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:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in its series SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research with number 415.

in new window

Length: 27 p.
Date of creation: 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp415
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Mohrenstraße 58, D-10117 Berlin

Phone: xx49-30-89789-671
Fax: xx49-30-89789-109
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

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. Albert O. Hirschman & Michael Rothschild, 1973. "The Changing Tolerance for Income Inequality in the Course of Economic DevelopmentWith A Mathematical Appendix," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(4), pages 544-566.
  2. 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).
  3. Fliessbach, Klaus & Weber, Bernd & Trautner, P. & Dohmen, Thomas J. & Sunde, Uwe & Elger, C. E. & Falk, Armin, 2007. "Social comparison affects reward-related brain activity in the human ventral striatum," Munich Reprints in Economics 20362, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  4. Claudia Senik, 2008. "Ambition and Jealousy: Income Interactions in the 'Old' Europe versus the 'New' Europe and the United States," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 75(299), pages 495-513, 08.
  5. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 826, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  6. Drichoutis, Andreas C. & Nayga Jr., Rodolfo M. & Lazaridis, Panagiotis, 2010. "Do reference values matter? Some notes and extensions on "income and happiness across Europe"," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 479-486, August.
  7. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2002. "How important is Methodology for the Estimates of the Determinants of Happiness?," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 02-024/3, Tinbergen Institute.
  8. Andrew E. Clark & Nicolai Kristensen & Niels Westergård-Nielsen, 2007. "Job satisfaction and co-worker wages: Status or signal?," PSE Working Papers halshs-00587878, HAL.
  9. Veblen, Thorstein, 1899. "The Theory of the Leisure Class," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number veblen1899.
  10. 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.
  11. Senik, Claudia, 2004. "When information dominates comparison: Learning from Russian subjective panel data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2099-2123, August.
  12. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2008. "Relative income, happiness, and utility: An explanation for the Easterlin paradox and other puzzles," Post-Print halshs-00754299, HAL.
  13. Gert G. Wagner & Joachim R. Frick & Jürgen Schupp, 2007. "The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP): Scope, Evolution and Enhancements," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 1, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  14. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1994. "Satisfaction and comparison income," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9408, CEPREMAP.
  15. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada, 2005. "Income and well-being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 997-1019, June.
  16. Thorstein Veblen, 1899. "Mr. Cummings's Strictures on "The Theory of the Leisure Class"," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8, pages 106.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:

  1. SOEP based publications

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp415. 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: (Bibliothek)

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.