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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.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of St. Andrews in its series Discussion Paper Series, Department of Economics with number 201105.

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Date of creation: 15 Nov 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:san:wpecon:1105
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  1. 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.
  2. Senik, Claudia, 2006. "Ambition and Jealousy: Income Interactions in the "Old" Europe versus the "New" Europe and the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 2083, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1994. "Satisfaction and comparison income," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9408, CEPREMAP.
  7. Hirschman, Albert O & Rothschild, Michael, 1973. "The Changing Tolerance for Income Inequality in the Course of Economic Development; with a Mathematical Appendix," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(4), pages 544-66, November.
  8. 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, 03.
  9. 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.
  10. Clark, Andrew E. & Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," IZA Discussion Papers 2840, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. Richard Layard & Guy Mayraz & Stephen Nickell, 2009. "Does Relative Income Matter? Are the Critics Right?," CEP Discussion Papers dp0918, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
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