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Life Satisfaction and Relative Income: Perceptions and Evidence

  • Mayraz, Guy

    ()

    (CEP, London School of Economics)

  • Wagner, Gert G.

    ()

    (DIW Berlin)

  • Schupp, Jürgen

    ()

    (DIW Berlin)

Using a unique dataset we study both the actual and self-perceived relationship between subjective well-being and income comparisons against a wide range of potential comparison groups, enabling us to investigate a broader range of questions than in previous studies. In questions inserted into a 2008 module of the German-Socio Economic Panel Study we ask subjects to report (a) how their income compares to various groups, such a co-workers, friends, and neighbours, and (b) how important these income comparisons are to them. We find substantial gender differences, with income comparisons being much better predictors of subjective well-being in men than in women. Generic (same-gender) comparisons are the most important, followed by within profession comparisons. Once generic and within-profession comparisons are controlled for, income relative to neighbours has a negative coefficient, implying that living in a high-income neighbourhood increases happiness. The perceived importance of income comparisons is found to be uncorrelated with its actual relationship to subjective well-being, suggesting that people are unconscious of its real impact. Subjects who judge comparisons to be important are, however, significantly less happy than subjects who see income comparisons as unimportant. Finally, the marginal effect of relative income on subjective well-being does not depend on whether a subject is below or above the reference group income.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 4390.

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Length: 24 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4390
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  1. Richard Layard & Guy Mayraz & Stephen J. Nickell, 2007. "The Marginal Utility of Income," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 50, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  2. 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.
  3. Luttmer, Erzo F. P., 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," Working Paper Series rwp04-029, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  4. Claudia Senik, 2008. "Direct evidence on income comparisons and their welfare effects," PSE Working Papers halshs-00588023, HAL.
  5. Robert H. Frank, 2005. "Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 137-141, May.
  6. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2002. "What Can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 402-435, June.
  7. Joerg Dittmann & Jan Goebel, 2010. "Your House, Your Car, Your Education: The Socioeconomic Situation of the Neighborhood and its Impact on Life Satisfaction in Germany," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 96(3), pages 497-513, May.
  8. Clark, Andrew E. & Senik, Claudia, 2009. "Who Compares to Whom? The Anatomy of Income Comparisons in Europe," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Docweb) 0907, CEPREMAP.
  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. John Knight & Lina Song, 2007. "Subjective Well-being and its Determinants in Rural China," Economics Series Working Papers 334, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  11. Conchita D’Ambrosio & Joachim Frick, 2007. "Income Satisfaction and Relative Deprivation: An Empirical Link," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 81(3), pages 497-519, May.
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