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Age, Life-satisfaction, and Relative Income – Insights from the UK and Germany

  • Felix R., FitzRoy
  • Michael, Nolan
  • Max F., Steinhardt

We first confirm previous results with the German Socio-Economic Panel by Layard et al. (2010), and obtain strong negative effects of comparison income. However, when we split the sample by age, we find quite different results for reference income. The effects on lifesatisfaction are positive and significant for those under 45, consistent with Hirschman’s (1973) ‘tunnel effect’, and only negative (and larger than in the full sample) for those over 45, when relative deprivation dominates. Thus for young respondents, reference income’s signalling role, indicating potential future prospects, can outweigh relative deprivation effects. Own-income effects are also larger for the older sample, and of greater magnitude than the comparison income effect. In East Germany the reference income effects are insignificant for all. With data from the British Household Panel Survey, we confirm standard results when encompassing all ages, but reference income loses significance in both age groups, and most surprisingly, even own income becomes insignificant for those over 45, while education has significant negative effects.

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Paper provided by Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE) in its series SIRE Discussion Papers with number 2013-51.

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Date of creation: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:edn:sirdps:478
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  1. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Is Well-Being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?," IZA Discussion Papers 3075, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. 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.
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  6. Hirschman, Albert O & Rothschild, Michael, 1973. "The Changing Tolerance for Income Inequality in the Course of Economic Development; with a Mathematical Appendix," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(4), pages 544-66, November.
  7. 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.
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  9. 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.
  10. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
  11. 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.
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