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On the relation between income inequality and happiness: Do fairness perceptions matter?

  • Bjornskov, Christian
  • Dreher, Axel
  • Fischer, Justina AV
  • Schnellenbach, Jan

In this paper, we revisit the association between happiness and inequality. We argue that the perceived fairness of the income generation process affects this association. Building on a two-period model of individual life-time utility maximization, we predict that persons with higher perceived fairness will experience higher levels of life-time utility and are less in favor of income redistribution. In societies with a high level of actual social mobility, income inequality is perceived more positively with increased expected fairness. The opposite is expected for countries with low actual social mobility, due to an increasing relevance of a disappointment effect resulting from unsuccessful individual investments. Using the World Values Survey data and a broad set of fairness measures, we find strong support for the negative (positive) association between fairness perceptions and the demand for more equal incomes (subjective well-being). We also find strong empirical support for the disappointment effect in low social mobility countries. In contrast, the results for high-mobility countries turn out to be ambiguous.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 19502.

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Date of creation: 21 Dec 2009
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:19502
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  1. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2002. "How important is Methodology for the Estimates of the Determinants of Happiness?," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 02-024/3, Tinbergen Institute.
  2. Richard Layard & Guy Mayraz & Stephen Nickell, 2009. "Does Relative Income Matter? Are the Critics Right?," CEP Discussion Papers dp0918, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  3. Irena Grosfeld & Claudia Senik, 2009. "The emerging aversion to inequality - Evidence from long subjective data," PSE Working Papers halshs-00586788, HAL.
  4. Alberto Alesina & Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2001. "Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1938, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  5. Hirschman, Albert O., 1973. "The changing tolerance for income inequality in the course of economic development," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 1(12), pages 29-36, December.
  6. Corneo, Giacomo & Grüner, Hans Peter, 2001. "Individual Preferences for Political Redistribution," CEPR Discussion Papers 2694, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Justina A.V. Fischer, 2009. "The Welfare Effects of Social Mobility," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 93, OECD Publishing.
  8. Christian Bjørnskov & Axel Dreher & Justina A. V. Fischer, 2006. "Cross-country determinants of life satisfaction: exploring different determinants across groups in society," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19290, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  9. Hopkins, Ed, 2008. "Inequality, Happiness and Relative Concerns: What Actually is their Relationship?," SIRE Discussion Papers 2008-01, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
  10. Dohmen, Thomas & Falk, Armin & Huffman, David B. & Marklein, Felix & Sunde, Uwe, 2009. "Biased Probability Judgment: Evidence of Incidence and Relationship to Economic Outcomes from a Representative Sample," IZA Discussion Papers 4170, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2008. "Relative income, happiness, and utility: An explanation for the Easterlin paradox and other puzzles," Post-Print halshs-00754299, HAL.
  12. Justina A.V. Fischer, 2009. "Happiness and Age Cycles - Return to Start...?: On the Functional Relationship between Subjective Well-Being and Age," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 99, OECD Publishing.
  13. 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.
  14. Kohei Kawamura, 2008. "Communication for Public Goods," ESE Discussion Papers 182, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  15. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, . "Beyond Outcomes: Measuring Procedural Utility," IEW - Working Papers 076, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  16. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1999. "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Munich Reprints in Economics 20650, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  17. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Happiness and age cycles – return to start…," MPRA Paper 15249, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  18. Andrew CLARK & Emanuela D'ANGELO, 2010. "Upward Social Mobility, Well-being and;Political Preferences: Evidence from the;BHPS," Working Papers 338, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
  19. Alberto Alesina & Eliana La Ferrara, 2001. "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1936, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  20. Ruut Veenhoven, 2000. "The Four Qualities of Life," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 1-39, March.
  21. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2000. "Who wants to redistribute?: The tunnel effect in 1990s Russia," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 87-104, April.
  22. La Ferrara, Eliana & Alesina, Alberto, 2005. "Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities," Scholarly Articles 4552533, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  23. Fischer, Justina AV, 2009. "Subjective Well-Being as Welfare Measure: Concepts and Methodology," MPRA Paper 16619, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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