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Who compares to whom? The anatomy of income comparisons in Europe

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  • Andrew E. Clark

    (PSE - Paris School of Economics - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement, IZA - Institute for the Study of Labor - IZA, PJSE - Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)

  • Claudia Senik

    (PSE - Paris School of Economics - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement, IZA - Institute for the Study of Labor - IZA, PJSE - Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UP4 - Université Paris-Sorbonne, IUF - Institut Universitaire de France - M.E.N.E.S.R. - Ministère de l'Education nationale, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche)

Abstract

This paper provides unprecedented direct evidence from large-scale survey data on both the intensity (how much?) and direction (to whom?) of income comparisons. Income comparisons are considered to be at least somewhat important by three-quarters of Europeans. They are associated with both lower levels of subjective well-being and a greater demand for income redistribution. The rich compare less and are more happy than average when they do, which latter is consistent with relative income theory. With respect to the direction of comparisons, colleagues are the most frequently-cited reference group. Those who compare to colleagues are happier than those who compare to other benchmarks; comparisons to friends are both less widespread and are associated with the lowest well-being scores. This is consistent with information effects, as colleagues income arguably contains more information about the individual s own future prospects than do the incomes of other reference groups. Last, there is some evidence that reference groups are endogenous, with individuals tending to compare to those with whom they interact the most often.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew E. Clark & Claudia Senik, 2009. "Who compares to whom? The anatomy of income comparisons in Europe," PSE Working Papers halshs-00586036, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:psewpa:halshs-00586036
    Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00586036
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Andrew Clark & Fabrice Etilé & Fabien Postel-Vinay & Claudia Senik & Karine Van der Straeten, 2005. "Heterogeneity in Reported Well-Being: Evidence from Twelve European Countries," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(502), pages 118-132, March.
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    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. Albert O. Hirschman & Michael Rothschild, 1973. "The Changing Tolerance for Income Inequality in the Course of Economic DevelopmentWith A Mathematical Appendix," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(4), pages 544-566.
    6. Senik, Claudia, 2009. "Direct evidence on income comparisons and their welfare effects," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 408-424, October.
    7. KNIGHT, John & SONG, Lina & GUNATILAKA, Ramani, 2009. "Subjective well-being and its determinants in rural China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 635-649, December.
    8. 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.
    9. Andrew E. Clark & Ed Diener & Yannis Georgellis & Richard E. Lucas, 2008. "Lags And Leads in Life Satisfaction: a Test of the Baseline Hypothesis," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(529), pages 222-243, June.
    10. AndrewE. Clark & Nicolai Kristensen & Niels Westergård-Nielsen, 2009. "Job Satisfaction and Co-worker Wages: Status or Signal?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(536), pages 430-447, March.
    11. 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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    14. Felicia Huppert & Nic Marks & Andrew Clark & Johannes Siegrist & Alois Stutzer & Joar Vittersø & Morten Wahrendorf, 2009. "Measuring Well-being Across Europe: Description of the ESS Well-being Module and Preliminary Findings," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 91(3), pages 301-315, May.
    15. 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, July.
    16. Senik, Claudia, 2004. "When information dominates comparison: Learning from Russian subjective panel data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2099-2123, August.
    17. 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.
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    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    income comparisons; relative income; reference groups; happiness; redistribution; European Social Survey; comparaisons de revenu; revenu relatif; groupes de référence; bien-être subjectif; demande de redistribution;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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