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Happiness and Loss Aversion: When Social Participation Dominates Comparison

  • Vendrik, Maarten C.M.

    ()

    (Maastricht University)

  • Woltjer, Geert

    ()

    (Maastricht University)

A central finding in happiness research is that a person’s income relative to the average income in her social reference group is more important for her life satisfaction than the absolute level of her income. This dependence of life satisfaction on relative income can be related to the reference dependence of the value function in Kahneman and Tversky’s (1979) prospect theory. In this paper we investigate whether the characteristics of the value function like concavity for gains, convexity for losses, and loss aversion apply to the dependence of life satisfaction on relative income. This is tested with a new measure for the reference income for a large German panel for the years 1984-2001. We find concavity of life satisfaction in positive relative income, but unexpectedly strongly significant concavity of life satisfaction in negative relative income as well. The latter result is shown to be robust to extreme distortions of the reported-life-satisfaction scale. It implies a rising marginal sensitivity of life satisfaction to more negative values of relative income, and hence loss aversion (in a wide sense). This may be explained in terms of increasing financial obstacles to social participation.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 2218.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2006
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal of Public Economics, 2007, 91 (7-8), 1423-1448
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2218
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  1. 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.
  2. Lorenz Goette & David Huffman & Ernst Fehr, 2004. "Loss Aversion and Labor Supply," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(2-3), pages 216-228, 04/05.
  3. 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.
  4. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1991. "Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1039-61, November.
  5. Alois Stutzer, . "The Role of Income Aspirations in Individual Happiness," IEW - Working Papers 124, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  6. Oswald, Andrew J., 2005. "On the Common Claim that Happiness Equations Demonstrate Diminishing Marginal Utility of Income," IZA Discussion Papers 1781, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  9. van Praag, B. M. S. & Frijters, P. & Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A., 2003. "The anatomy of subjective well-being," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 29-49, May.
  10. Easterlin, Richard A, 2001. "Income and Happiness: Towards an Unified Theory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(473), pages 465-84, July.
  11. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1998. "Comparison-concave utility and following behaviour in social and economic settings," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 133-155, October.
  12. Kobberling, Veronika & Wakker, Peter P., 2005. "An index of loss aversion," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 122(1), pages 119-131, May.
  13. Peter Wakker & Veronika Köbberling & Christiane Schwieren, 2007. "Prospect-theory’s Diminishing Sensitivity Versus Economics’ Intrinsic Utility of Money: How the Introduction of the Euro can be Used to Disentangle the Two Empirically," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 63(3), pages 205-231, November.
  14. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
  15. Kahneman, Daniel & Wakker, Peter P & Sarin, Rakesh, 1997. "Back to Bentham? Explorations of Experienced Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 375-405, May.
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  17. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
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  19. Wakker, Peter & Tversky, Amos, 1993. " An Axiomatization of Cumulative Prospect Theory," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 147-75, October.
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  22. 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.
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  26. repec:ner:tilbur:urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-364330 is not listed on IDEAS
  27. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada, 2005. "Income and well-being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 997-1019, June.
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