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On the relation between income inequality and happiness: Do fairness perceptions matter?

  • Christian Bjørnskov

    (Department of Economics, Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus University)

  • Axel Dreher

    (University of Goettingen)

  • Justina A.V. Fischer

    (Stockholm School of Economics)

  • Jan Schnellenbach

    (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg)

In this paper, we revisit the association between happiness and inequality. We argue that the perceived fairness of the income generation process affects this association. Building on a two-period model of individual life-time utility maximization, we predict that persons with higher perceived fairness will experience higher levels of life-time utility and are less in favor of income redistribution. In societies with a high level of actual social mobility, income inequality is perceived more positively with increased expected fairness. The opposite is expected for countries with low actual social mobility, due to an increasing relevance of a disappointment effect resulting from unsuccessful individual investments. Using the World Values Survey data and a broad set of fairness measures, we find strong support for the negative (positive) association between fairness perceptions and the demand for more equal incomes (subjective well-being). We also find strong empirical support for the disappointment effect in low social mobility countries. In contrast, the results for high-mobility countries turn out to be ambiguous.

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Paper provided by Courant Research Centre PEG in its series Courant Research Centre: Poverty, Equity and Growth - Discussion Papers with number 20.

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Date of creation: 22 Dec 2009
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Handle: RePEc:got:gotcrc:020
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Web page: http://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/82144.html

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  1. Corneo, Giacomo & Gruner, Hans Peter, 2002. "Individual preferences for political redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 83-107, January.
  2. Ruut Veenhoven, 2000. "The Four Qualities of Life," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 1-39, March.
  3. Alesina, Alberto & Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert, 2004. "Inequality and happiness: are Europeans and Americans different?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2009-2042, August.
  4. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2008. "Relative Income, Happiness, and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(1), pages 95-144, March.
  5. Kohei Kawamura, 2008. "Inequality, Happiness and Relative Concerns: What Actually is their Relationship?," ESE Discussion Papers 182, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  6. Christian Bjørnskov & Axel Dreher & Justina A. V. Fischer, 2006. "Cross-country determinants of life satisfaction: exploring different determinants across groups in society," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19290, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  7. Andrew CLARK & Emanuela D'ANGELO, 2010. "Upward Social Mobility, Well-being and;Political Preferences: Evidence from the;BHPS," Working Papers 338, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
  8. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2004. "How Important is Methodology for the estimates of the determinants of Happiness?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 641-659, 07.
  9. Dohmen, Thomas & Falk, Armin & Huffman, David & Marklein, Felix & Sunde, Uwe, 2009. "Biased probability judgment: Evidence of incidence and relationship to economic outcomes from a representative sample," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(3), pages 903-915, December.
  10. Ed Hopkins, 2008. "Inequality, happiness and relative concerns: What actually is their relationship?," Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer, vol. 6(4), pages 351-372, December.
  11. Irena Grosfeld & Claudia Senik, 2009. "The emerging aversion to inequality - Evidence from long subjective data," PSE Working Papers halshs-00586788, HAL.
  12. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 2000. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," NBER Working Papers 7487, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Subjective Well-Being as Welfare Measure: Concepts and Methodology," MPRA Paper 16619, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  14. Alesina, Alberto & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2005. "Preferences for redistribution in the land of opportunities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 897-931, June.
  15. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory Of Fairness, Competition, And Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868, August.
  16. Justina A.V. Fischer, 2009. "The Welfare Effects of Social Mobility," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 93, OECD Publishing.
  17. La Ferrara, Eliana & Alesina, Alberto, 2005. "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," Scholarly Articles 4552533, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  18. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2000. "Who wants to redistribute?: The tunnel effect in 1990s Russia," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 87-104, April.
  19. Richard Layard & Guy Mayraz & Stephen Nickell, 2009. "Does relative income matter? Are the critics right?," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28594, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  20. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Happiness and age cycles – return to start…," MPRA Paper 15249, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  21. Frey, Bruno S. & Stutzer, Alois, 2002. "Beyond Outcomes: Measuring Procedural Utility," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt7qp9q1js, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  22. 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.
  23. Justina A.V. Fischer, 2009. "Happiness and Age Cycles - Return to Start...?: On the Functional Relationship between Subjective Well-Being and Age," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 99, OECD Publishing.
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