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Life Satisfaction and Relative Income: Perceptions and Evidence

Author

Listed:
  • Mayraz, Guy

    () (CEP, London School of Economics)

  • Wagner, Gert G.

    () (Max Planck Institute for Human Development)

  • Schupp, Jürgen

    () (DIW Berlin)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Mayraz, Guy & Wagner, Gert G. & Schupp, Jürgen, 2009. "Life Satisfaction and Relative Income: Perceptions and Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 4390, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4390
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. How does income inequality affect happiness?
      by Winton Bates in Freedom and Flourishing on 2012-02-09 12:07:00

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    Cited by:

    1. Karen Mumford & Peter N. Smith, 2015. "Peer Salaries and Gender Differences in Job Satisfaction in the Workplace," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 83(3), pages 307-313, June.
    2. Yamada, Katsunori & Sato, Masayuki, 2013. "Another avenue for anatomy of income comparisons: Evidence from hypothetical choice experiments," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 35-57.
    3. Schneck, Stefan, 2014. "My Wage is Unfair! Just a Feeling or Comparison with Peers?," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 245-273.
    4. repec:eee:soceco:v:70:y:2017:i:c:p:1-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Joachim Merz & Henning Stolze, 2010. "Kumulation von Querschnitten - Evaluierung alternativer Konzepte für die kumulierten laufenden Wirtschaftsrechnungen 1999 bis 2003 im Vergleich zur Einkommens- und Verbrauchsstichprobe 2003," FFB-Discussionpaper 85, Research Institute on Professions (Forschungsinstitut Freie Berufe (FFB)), LEUPHANA University Lüneburg.
    6. Steffen Lohmann, 2015. "Information technologies and subjective well-being: does the Internet raise material aspirations?," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 67(3), pages 740-759.
    7. Joachim Merz & Tim Rathjen, 2016. "Entrepreneurs and Freelancers: Are They Time and Income Multidimensional Poor? - The German Case," FFB-Discussionpaper 102, Research Institute on Professions (Forschungsinstitut Freie Berufe (FFB)), LEUPHANA University Lüneburg.
    8. Vladimir Spokoiny & Mayya Zhilova, 2013. "Sharp deviation bounds for quadratic forms," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2013-035, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
    9. Dumludag, Devrim & Gokdemir, Ozge & Vendrik, Maarten C.M., 2015. "Relative Income and Life Satisfaction of Turkish Immigrants: The Impact of a Collectivistic Culture," IZA Discussion Papers 9282, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    10. Clark, Andrew E. & Senik, Claudia & Yamada, Katsunori, 2017. "When experienced and decision utility concur: The case of income comparisons," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 1-9.
    11. Sun Youn Lee & Fumio Ohtake, 2018. "How Conscious Are You of Others? Further Evidence on Relative Income and Happiness," ISER Discussion Paper 1022, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
    12. Joachim Merz & Tim Rathjen, 2011. "Zeit- und Einkommensarmut von Freien Berufen und Unternehmern," FFB-Discussionpaper 89, Research Institute on Professions (Forschungsinstitut Freie Berufe (FFB)), LEUPHANA University Lüneburg.
    13. Abel Brodeur & Sarah Flèche, 2017. "Neighbors' Income, Public Goods and Well-Being," Working Papers 1719E, University of Ottawa, Department of Economics.
    14. Grund, Christian & Martin, Johannes, 2012. "Monetary Reference Points of Managers: An Empirical Investigation of Status Quo Preferences and Social Comparisons," IZA Discussion Papers 7097, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    15. Stefan Schneck, 2011. "The Effect of Relative Standing on Considerations about Self-Employment," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 426, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    16. Devrim Dumludag & Ozge Gokdemir & Selay Giray, 2016. "Income comparison, collectivism and life satisfaction in Turkey," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 50(3), pages 955-980, May.
    17. Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2011. "Money and Happiness: Evidence from the Industry Wage Structure," NBER Working Papers 17056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Yingchao Zhang & Oliver Fabel & Christian Thomann, 2015. "Pay inequity effects on back-office employees’ job performances: the case of a large insurance firm," Central European Journal of Operations Research, Springer;Slovak Society for Operations Research;Hungarian Operational Research Society;Czech Society for Operations Research;Österr. Gesellschaft für Operations Research (ÖGOR);Slovenian Society Informatika - Section for Operational Research;Croatian Operational Research Society, vol. 23(2), pages 421-439, June.
    19. Umar M. A. Boodoo & Rafael Gomez & Morley Gunderson, 2014. "Relative income, absolute income and the life satisfaction of older adults: do retirees differ from the non-retired?," Industrial Relations Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 45(4), pages 281-299, July.
    20. Andrew Clark & Claudia Senik & Katsunori Yamada, 2013. "The Joneses in Japan: Income Comparisons and Financial Satisfaction," ISER Discussion Paper 0866, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
    21. Simone Schneider, 2010. "The Selection of Pay Referents: Potential Patterns and Impacts on Life Satisfaction," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 333, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    22. Cristina Blanco-Perez, 2012. "Rethinking the Relative Income Hypothesis," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 501, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    23. Vendrik, Maarten C.M., 2013. "Adaptation, anticipation and social interaction in happiness: An integrated error-correction approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 131-149.
    24. Arndt Werner & Johanna Gast & Sascha Kraus, 2014. "The effect of working time preferences and fair wage perceptions on entrepreneurial intentions among employees," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 43(1), pages 137-160, June.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    income comparisons; relative income; life satisfaction; German Socio Economic Panel Study; SOEP;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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