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Relative status and well-being: evidence from U.S. suicide deaths

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  • Mary C. Daly
  • Daniel J. Wilson
  • Norman J. Johnson

Abstract

This paper empirically assesses the theory of interpersonal income comparison using individual level data on suicide deaths in the United States. We model suicide as a choice variable, conditional on exogenous risk factors, reflecting an individual's assessment of current and expected future utility. Our empirical analysis considers whether suicide risk is systematically related to the income of others, holding own income and other individual factors fixed. We estimate proportional hazards and probit models of the suicide hazard using two separate and independent data sets: (1) the National Longitudinal Mortality Study and (2) the Detailed Mortality Files combined with the 5 percent Public Use Micro Sample of the 1990 decennial census. Results from both data sources show that, controlling for own income and individual characteristics, individual suicide risk rises with reference group income. This result holds for reference groups defined broadly, such as by county, and more narrowly by county and one demographic marker (e.g., age, sex, race). These findings are robust to alternative specifications and cannot be explained by geographic variation in cost of living, access to emergency medical care, mismeasurement of deaths by suicide, or by bias due to endogeneity of own income. Our results confirm findings using self-reported happiness data and are consistent with models of utility featuring "external habit" or "Keeping Up with the Joneses" preferences.

Suggested Citation

  • Mary C. Daly & Daniel J. Wilson & Norman J. Johnson, 2007. "Relative status and well-being: evidence from U.S. suicide deaths," Working Paper Series 2007-12, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2007-12
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Patrick Pintus & Yi Wen, 2013. "Leveraged Borrowing and Boom-Bust Cycles," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(4), pages 617-633, October.
    2. Michalis Nikiforos, 2015. "A Nonbehavioral Theory of Saving," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_844, Levy Economics Institute.
    3. Achyuta Adhvaryu & James Fenske & Anant Nyshadham, 2014. "Early Life Circumstance and Mental Health in Ghana," CSAE Working Paper Series 2014-03, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    4. Nguyen, Ha & Duncan, Alan, 2015. "Macroeconomic fluctuations in home countries and immigrants’ well-being: New evidence from Down Under," MPRA Paper 69593, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Feb 2016.
    5. Bucciol, Alessandro & Cavasso, Barbara & Zarri, Luca, 2015. "Social status and personality traits," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 245-260.
    6. Ikeda Shin S., 2016. "Graphical analyses of occupation-wise suicide risk in Japan," GRIPS Discussion Papers 16-03, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
    7. Alessandro Bucciol & Simona Cicognani & Luca Zarri, 2017. "The Social Status-Enhancing Power of Social Ties," Working Papers 04/2017, University of Verona, Department of Economics.
    8. Tara Watson & Sara McLanahan, 2011. "Marriage Meets the Joneses: Relative Income, Identity, and Marital Status," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 46(3), pages 482-517.
    9. Sanna Huikari & Marko Korhonen, 2016. "The Impact of Unemployment on Well-Being: Evidence from the Regional Level Suicide Data in Finland," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 128(3), pages 1103-1119, September.
    10. Alejandro SALAZAR-ADAMS & Nicolás PINEDA-PABLOS, "undated". "Policies for Meeting Future Water Needs in Mexican Cities," EcoMod2010 259600147, EcoMod.
    11. Nadia Campaniello & Theodoros M. Diasakos & Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2017. "Rationalizable Suicides: Evidence from Changes in Inmates’ Expected Length of Sentence," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 388-428.
    12. Shin S. Ikeda, 2013. "A Contingent Claim Analysis of Suicide," GRIPS Discussion Papers 13-05, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
    13. Marko Korhonen & Mikko Puhakka & Matti Viren, 2016. "Economic hardship and suicide mortality in Finland, 1875–2010," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 17(2), pages 129-137, March.
    14. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald & Bert Van Landeghem, 2009. "Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 528-538, 04-05.
    15. Hai V. Nguyen, 2016. "Keeping Up with the Joneses: Neighbourhood Wealth and Hypertension," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 1255-1271, June.
    16. Janet L. Yellen, 2007. "Implications of behavioral economics for monetary policy," Speech 41, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
    17. James Fenske & Achyuta Adhvaryu & Anant Nyshadham, 2014. "Early Life Circumstance and Adult Mental Health," Economics Series Working Papers 698, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    18. Hudson, Eibhlin, 2013. "Does relative material wealth matter for child and adolescent life satisfaction?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 38-47.
    19. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Subjective Well-Being as Welfare Measure: Concepts and Methodology," MPRA Paper 16619, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    20. Alessandro Bucciol & Simona Cicognani & Luca Zarri, 2017. "The Status-Enhancing Power of Sociability," Working Paper series 17-15, Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Income distribution ; Suicide;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • H0 - Public Economics - - General
    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General

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