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The Relative Utility Hypothesis With and Without Self-reported Reference Wages

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  • Adrian de la Garza
  • Giovanni Mastrobuoni
  • Atsushi Sannabe
  • Katsunori Yamada

Abstract

This article makes three main contributions to the economics of happiness literature. First, using a novel data set of about 90,000 Japanese workers surveyed in annual cross-sections between 1990 and 2004, it demonstrates that individuals experience strong disutility when they perceive that their coworkers earn relatively higher wages. In contrast with other tests of the relative utility hypothesis in the literature, our estimation relies on workers' self-reported beliefs of their peers' wages, which we argue are more closely aligned to the "true" reference-group benchmark than the assumed comparison income measures employed in other studies. Second, the article shows important heterogeneous effects of both absolute and relative income on happiness. In particular, workers who are better able to accurately predict their peers' wages seem to experience both greater utility of higher own income and greater disutility of higher relative income. Third, we assess the validity of different methodologies that the literature has employed to construct comparison income measures and find significant discrepancies, particularly when reference income is derived from Mincer equations--a common approach in other studies. We demonstrate that such discrepancies stem from the difficulty in finding valid exclusion restrictions that help identify the relative income effect on happiness. In the absence of self-reported reference wages, we propose a simple IV strategy that does not eliminate the lack of consistency but delivers a lower bound of the "true" effect.

Suggested Citation

  • Adrian de la Garza & Giovanni Mastrobuoni & Atsushi Sannabe & Katsunori Yamada, 2010. "The Relative Utility Hypothesis With and Without Self-reported Reference Wages," ISER Discussion Paper 0798, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University, revised Jul 2012.
  • Handle: RePEc:dpr:wpaper:0798
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    Cited by:

    1. Goerke, Laszlo & Pannenberg, Markus, 2015. "Direct evidence for income comparisons and subjective well-being across reference groups," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 95-101.
    2. Yamada, Katsunori & Sato, Masayuki, 2013. "Another avenue for anatomy of income comparisons: Evidence from hypothetical choice experiments," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 35-57.
    3. Temesgen Kifle, 2014. "Do Comparison Wages Play a Major Role in Determining Overall Job Satisfaction? Evidence from Australia," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 15(3), pages 613-638, June.
    4. Clark, Andrew E. & Senik, Claudia & Yamada, Katsunori, 2017. "When experienced and decision utility concur: The case of income comparisons," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 1-9.
    5. Laetitia Hauret & Donald R. Williams, 2019. "Relative Income and Pay Satisfaction: Further Evidence on the Role of the Reference Group," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 20(1), pages 307-329, January.
    6. Andrew Clark & Claudia Senik & Katsunori Yamada, 2013. "The Joneses in Japan: Income Comparisons and Financial Satisfaction," ISER Discussion Paper 0866, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
    7. Gabriele Ruiu & Maria Laura Ruiu, 2019. "The Complex Relationship Between Education and Happiness: The Case of Highly Educated Individuals in Italy," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 20(8), pages 2631-2653, December.
    8. Goerke, Laszlo & Pannenberg, Markus, 2013. "Keeping up with the Joneses: Income Comparisons and Labour Supply," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 80033, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    9. Katsunori Yamada & Masayuki Sato & Yasuhiro Nakamoto, 2009. "Measurement of Social Preference from Utility-Based Choice Experiments," ISER Discussion Paper 0759, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
    10. Sun Youn Lee & Fumio Ohtake, 2018. "How Conscious Are You of Others? Further Evidence on Relative Income and Happiness," ISER Discussion Paper 1022, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.

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    JEL classification:

    • D00 - Microeconomics - - General - - - General
    • J28 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Safety; Job Satisfaction; Related Public Policy

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