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Money, well-being and loss aversion: does an income loss have a greater effect on well-being than an equivalent income gain?

Listed author(s):
  • Boyce, Christopher J.
  • Wood, Alex M.
  • Banks, James
  • Clark, Andrew E.
  • Brown, Gordon D.A.

Higher income is associated with greater well-being, but do income gains and losses impact on well-being differently? Loss aversion, whereby losses loom larger than gains, is typically examined with relation to decisions about anticipated outcomes. Here, using subjective well-being data from Germany (N = 28,723) and the UK (N = 20,570), we find that experienced falls in income have a larger impact on well-being than equivalent income gains. The effect is not explained by the diminishing returns to well-being of income. Our findings show that loss aversion applies to experienced losses, counteracting suggestions that loss aversion is only an affective forecasting error. Longitudinal studies of the income/well-being relationship may, by failing to take account of loss aversion, have overestimated the positive effect of income for well-being. Moreover, societal well-being may be best served by small and stable income increases even if such stability impairs long-term growth.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/57997/
File Function: Open access version.
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 57997.

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Length: 18 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2014
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:57997
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  1. Di Tella, Rafael & Haisken-De New, John & MacCulloch, Robert, 2010. "Happiness adaptation to income and to status in an individual panel," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 834-852, December.
  2. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2008. "Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 39(1 (Spring), pages 1-102.
  3. Layard, R. & Mayraz, G. & Nickell, S., 2008. "The marginal utility of income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(8-9), pages 1846-1857, August.
  4. Paul Frijters & John P. Haisken-DeNew & Michael A. Shields, 2004. "Money Does Matter! Evidence from Increasing Real Income and Life Satisfaction in East Germany Following Reunification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 730-740, June.
  5. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 2003. "Macroeconomic Priorities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 1-14, March.
  6. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
  7. 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.
  8. Vendrik, Maarten C.M. & Woltjer, Geert B., 2007. "Happiness and loss aversion: Is utility concave or convex in relative income?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(7-8), pages 1423-1448, August.
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