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It is better to be the head of a chicken than the tail of a phoenix: a study of concern for relative standing in rural China


  • Carlsson, Fredrik

    () (Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)

  • Qin, Ping

    () (Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)


This paper examines the concern for relative standing among rural households in China. We use a survey-experimental method to measure to what extent poor Chinese farmers care about their relative income and find that the respondents care to a high degree. Compared to previous studies in developed countries, the concern for relative standing seems to be equally strong among rural households in China. This should be seen in the light of the rapid change China has undergone, with high growth, increased inequality, and the highest urban-rural income ratio in the world. Thus, the rural population, which is lagging behind, is suffering not only from the low absolute income but also from low relative income.

Suggested Citation

  • Carlsson, Fredrik & Qin, Ping, 2008. "It is better to be the head of a chicken than the tail of a phoenix: a study of concern for relative standing in rural China," Working Papers in Economics 308, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:gunwpe:0308

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Johansson-Stenman, Olof & Martinsson, Peter, 2006. "Honestly, why are you driving a BMW?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 60(2), pages 129-146, June.
    2. Fredrik Carlsson & Olof Johansson-Stenman & Peter Martinsson, 2007. "Do You Enjoy Having More than Others? Survey Evidence of Positional Goods," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 74(296), pages 586-598, November.
    3. Fredrik Carlsson & Pham Khanh Nam & Martin Linde-Rahr & Peter Martinsson, 2007. "Are Vietnamese farmers concerned with their relative position in society?," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 43(7), pages 1177-1188.
    4. Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi & Knight, John, 2007. "Community, comparisons and subjective well-being in a divided society," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 69-90, September.
    5. Fredrik Carlsson & Gautam Gupta & Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2009. "Keeping up with the Vaishyas? Caste and relative standing in India," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 61(1), pages 52-73, January.
    6. Alpizar, Francisco & Carlsson, Fredrik & Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2005. "How much do we care about absolute versus relative income and consumption?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 405-421, March.
    7. Markus Knell, 1999. "Social Comparisons, Inequality, and Growth," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 155(4), pages 664-664, December.
    8. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2010. "Who cares about relative deprivation?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 171-185, February.
    9. McBride, Michael, 2001. "Relative-income effects on subjective well-being in the cross-section," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 251-278, July.
    10. Brown, Philip H. & Bulte, Erwin & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2011. "Positional spending and status seeking in rural China," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(1), pages 139-149, September.
    11. Solnick, Sara J. & Hong, Li & Hemenway, David, 2007. "Positional goods in the United States and China," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 537-545, August.
    12. J. Solnick, Sara & Hemenway, David, 1998. "Is more always better?: A survey on positional concerns," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 373-383, November.
    13. Chang, Gene H., 2002. "The cause and cure of China's widening income disparity," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 13(4), pages 335-340, December.
    14. Olof Johansson-Stenman & Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala, 2002. "Measuring Future Grandparents" Preferences for Equality and Relative Standing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 362-383, April.
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    More about this item


    Relative standing; China; Inequality;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement

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