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Are Americans Really Less Happy With Their Incomes?

Listed author(s):
  • Kapteyn, A.

    (Tilburg University, Center For Economic Research)

  • Smith, J.P.
  • van Soest, A.H.O.

    (Tilburg University, Center For Economic Research)

Recent economic research on international comparisons of subjective well-being suffers from several important biases due to the potential incomparability of response scales within and across countries. In this paper we concentrate on self-reported satisfaction with income in two countries: The Netherlands and the U.S. The comparability problem is addressed by using anchoring vignettes. We find that in the raw data, Americans appear decidedly less satisfied with their income than the Dutch. It turns out however that after response scale adjustment based on vignettes the distribution of satisfaction in the two countries is essentially identical. In addition, we find that the within-country cross-sectional effect of income on satisfaction- a key parameter in the recent debate in the economic literature- is significantly under-estimated especially in the US- when differences in response scales are not taken into account.

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Paper provided by Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research in its series Discussion Paper with number 2011-059.

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Date of creation: 2011
Handle: RePEc:tiu:tiucen:9c4b1732-54e6-4344-a3e7-b1d8c7c79b2c
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://center.uvt.nl

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  1. Arthur Van Soest & Liam Delaney & Colm Harmon & Arie Kapteyn & James P. Smith, 2007. "Validating the Use of Vignettes for Subjective Threshold Scales," Working Papers 200714, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  2. Nigel Rice & Silvana Robone & Peter Smith, 2011. "Analysis of the validity of the vignette approach to correct for heterogeneity in reporting health system responsiveness," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 12(2), pages 141-162, April.
  3. 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.
  4. Arie Kapteyn & James P. Smith & Arthur van Soest, 2007. "Vignettes and Self-Reports of Work Disability in the United States and the Netherlands," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 461-473, March.
  5. Peggy Schyns, 2002. "Wealth Of Nations, Individual Income andLife Satisfaction in 42 Countries:A Multilevel Approach," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 60(1), pages 5-40, December.
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  8. Alesina, Alberto & Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert, 2004. "Inequality and happiness: are Europeans and Americans different?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2009-2042, August.
  9. Johannes Schwarze, 2003. "Using Panel Data on Income Satisfaction to Estimate Equivalence Scale Elasticity," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 49(3), pages 359-372, September.
  10. Stanovnik, Tine, 1992. "Perception of poverty and income satisfaction : An empirical analysis of Slovene households," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 57-69, March.
  11. van Praag, B. M. S. & Frijters, P. & Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A., 2003. "The anatomy of subjective well-being," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 29-49, May.
  12. Teresa Bago d'Uva & Eddy Van Doorslaer & Maarten Lindeboom & Owen O'Donnell, 2008. "Does reporting heterogeneity bias the measurement of health disparities?," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 17(3), pages 351-375.
  13. Eric Bonsang & Arthur Soest, 2012. "Satisfaction with Job and Income Among Older Individuals Across European Countries," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 105(2), pages 227-254, January.
  14. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Bernard M.S. van Praag, 2002. "The subjective costs of health losses due to chronic diseases. An alternative model for monetary appraisal," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 11(8), pages 709-722.
  15. 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.
  16. Kristensen, Nicolai & Johansson, Edvard, 2008. "New evidence on cross-country differences in job satisfaction using anchoring vignettes," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(1), pages 96-117, February.
  17. Bernard M. S. van Praag & Nico L. van der Sar, 1988. "Household Cost Functions and Equivalence Scales," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 23(2), pages 193-210.
  18. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
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