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Status, Happiness, and Relative Income


  • Beath, John

    () (University of St. Andrews)

  • FitzRoy, Felix

    () (University of St. Andrews)


Models of status based on Frank’s (1985) count of the number of people with lower conspicuous consumption are inconsistent with the extensive empirical literature on happiness and well-being. The alternative approach to consumption interaction which uses some form of relative income has been developed in various contexts. These predict that a representative agent’s well-being will increase with real income or consumption. However, this is again inconsistent with the time-series evidence for advanced economies. In this paper we combine a simple model of relative income with a distribution of ability that correctly predicts both time series results of near constant utility, and the positive, concave cross-sectional relation between income, working time and happiness.

Suggested Citation

  • Beath, John & FitzRoy, Felix, 2007. "Status, Happiness, and Relative Income," IZA Discussion Papers 2658, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2658

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Abel, Andrew B, 1990. "Asset Prices under Habit Formation and Catching Up with the Joneses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 38-42, May.
    2. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2004. "Well-being over time in Britain and the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1359-1386, July.
    3. Stutzer, Alois, 2004. "The role of income aspirations in individual happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 89-109, May.
    4. Cooper, Ben & Garcia-Penalosa, Cecilia & Funk, Peter, 2001. "Status Effects and Negative Utility Growth," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(473), pages 642-665, July.
    5. Ed Hopkins & Tatiana Kornienko, 2004. "Running to Keep in the Same Place: Consumer Choice as a Game of Status," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1085-1107, September.
    6. Robson, Arthur J, 1992. "Status, the Distribution of Wealth, Private and Social Attitudes to Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 60(4), pages 837-857, July.
    7. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2005. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 963-1002.
    8. Moffitt, Robert, 1983. "An Economic Model of Welfare Stigma," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 1023-1035, December.
    9. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
    10. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2006. "Income and happiness: Evidence, explanations and economic implications," PSE Working Papers halshs-00590436, HAL.
    11. Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2006. "Some Uses of Happiness Data in Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 25-46, Winter.
    12. Harald Uhlig & Lars Ljungqvist, 2000. "Tax Policy and Aggregate Demand Management under Catching Up with the Joneses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 356-366, June.
    13. Abel, Andrew B., 1999. "Risk premia and term premia in general equilibrium," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 3-33, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. David A. Weisbach, 2008. "What Does Happiness Research Tell Us About Taxation?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(S2), pages 293-324, June.

    More about this item


    status; happiness; relative income;

    JEL classification:

    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics

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