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Reign in Hell or Serve in Heaven? A Cross-country Journey into the Relative vs Absolute Perceptions of Wellbeing

  • Luca Corazzini, Lucio Esposito, Francesca Majorano.

Questionnaires exploring the relativist vs absolutist perception of wellbeing are administered to 3,883 respondents in eight different countries, four low-income countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Kenya and Laos, 1,924 respondents) and four high-income countries (Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, 1,959 respondents). Our data reveal that wellbeing is perceived mainly in relative terms with the strength of relativism being higher for respondents in high-income countries. However, when the satisfaction of some ‘basic needs’ is at stake the absolutist concern becomes powerful. Additional insights emerge from our study. Interpersonal comparisons take place by looking both ‘upward’ and ‘downward’ along the income scale, not only income ranking but also the magnitude of reference incomes plays a role and the perception of wellbeing is more elastic to absolute rather than relative income. Finally, personal characteristics such as gender and background of studies have a significant role in determining respondents’ relativist perception of wellbeing.

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Paper provided by ISLA, Centre for research on Latin American Studies and Transition Economies, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy in its series ISLA Working Papers with number 36.

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Length: 24 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:slp:islawp:islawp36
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