IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Age, Life-satisfaction, and Relative Income-Insights from the UK and Germany


  • Felix F. FitzRoy
  • Michael A. Nolan
  • Max F. Steinhardt


We first confirm previous results with the German Socio-Economic Panel by Layard et al. (2010), and obtain strong negative effects of comparison income. However, when we split the sample by age, we find quite different results for reference income. The effects on life- satisfaction are positive and significant for those under 45, consistent with Hirschman’s (1973) ‘tunnel effect’, and only negative (and larger than in the full sample) for those over 45, when relative deprivation dominates. Thus for young respondents, reference income’s signalling role, indicating potential future prospects, can outweigh relative deprivation effects. Own-income effects are also larger for the older sample, and of greater magnitude than the comparison income effect. In East Germany the reference income effects are insignificant for all. With data from the British Household Panel Survey, we confirm standard results when encompassing all ages, but reference income loses significance in both age groups, and most surprisingly, even own income becomes insignificant for those over 45, while education has significant negative effects.

Suggested Citation

  • Felix F. FitzRoy & Michael A. Nolan & Max F. Steinhardt, 2011. "Age, Life-satisfaction, and Relative Income-Insights from the UK and Germany," Discussion Paper Series, Department of Economics 201105, Department of Economics, University of St. Andrews.
  • Handle: RePEc:san:wpecon:1105

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(8), pages 1733-1749, April.
    2. Claudia Senik, 2008. "Ambition and Jealousy: Income Interactions in the 'Old' Europe versus the 'New' Europe and the United States," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 75(299), pages 495-513, August.
    3. Albert O. Hirschman & Michael Rothschild, 1973. "The Changing Tolerance for Income Inequality in the Course of Economic DevelopmentWith A Mathematical Appendix," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(4), pages 544-566.
    4. Layard, Richard & Mayraz, Guy & Nickell, Stephen, 2009. "Does relative income matter? Are the critics right?," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 28594, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    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. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
    7. AndrewE. Clark & Nicolai Kristensen & Niels Westergård-Nielsen, 2009. "Job Satisfaction and Co-worker Wages: Status or Signal?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(536), pages 430-447, March.
    8. 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.
    9. Boyce, Christopher J. & Brown, Gordon D.A., 2008. "Income Rank and Upward Comparisons," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 883, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    10. 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, July.
    11. Senik, Claudia, 2004. "When information dominates comparison: Learning from Russian subjective panel data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2099-2123, August.
    12. Drichoutis, Andreas C. & Nayga Jr., Rodolfo M. & Lazaridis, Panagiotis, 2010. "Do reference values matter? Some notes and extensions on "income and happiness across Europe"," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 479-486, August.
    13. 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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Akay, Alpaslan & Martinsson, Peter, 2012. "Positional Concerns through the Life Cycle: Evidence from Subjective Well-Being Data and Survey Experiments," IZA Discussion Papers 6342, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Felix FitzRoy & Michael Nolan & Max Steinhardt & David Ulph, 2014. "Testing the tunnel effect: comparison, age and happiness in UK and German panels," IZA Journal of European Labor Studies, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 3(1), pages 1-30, December.
    3. Godechot, Olivier & Senik, Claudia, 2015. "Wage comparisons in and out of the firm. Evidence from a matched employer–employee French database," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 395-410.
    4. 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).

    More about this item


    subjective life-satisfaction; comparison income; reference groups; age; welfare;

    JEL classification:

    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:san:wpecon:1105. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (the School of Economics). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.