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Choosing the Joneses On the Endogeneity of Reference Groups

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  • Armin Falk
  • Markus Knell

Abstract

A growing economic literature recognizes and deals with the fact that economic agents' utility and well-being is not solely determined by absolute achievements, but also by achievements relative to a reference standard or reference group. In this literature it is assumed that the reference standard is completely exogenous. Social psychologists have questioned the exogenous nature of the comparison process ("forced comparison conception") and have emphasized that people play a more active role in the determination of their reference standards ("coping approach"). The present paper takes up this idea. In our model the reference standard is determined endogenously. Following the social comparison literature we assume that in choosing the optimal reference standard people pursue goals of self-improvement and self-enhancement. Our model predicts that the optimally chosen reference standard (or group) increases in people's abilities. We present new questionnaire data together with a review of various important findings from social perception studies (minimum income, happiness, subjective social class). It turns out that the empirical regularities conform well to the predictions of our model, but are difficult (if not impossible) to explain by both the standard economic approach (with its neglect of social comparison) and the forced comparison approach.

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  • Armin Falk & Markus Knell, "undated". "Choosing the Joneses On the Endogeneity of Reference Groups," IEW - Working Papers 053, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:053
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    1. David M. Cutler & Adriana Lleras-Muney & Tom Vogl, 2008. "Socioeconomic Status and Health: Dimensions and Mechanisms," NBER Working Papers 14333, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Stutzer, Alois, 2004. "The role of income aspirations in individual happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 89-109, May.
    3. HAURET Laetitia & WILLIAMS Donald R., 2018. "Time-in-Labour-Market and the Reference Group," LISER Working Paper Series 2018-02, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER).
    4. Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi & Knight, John, 2007. "Community, comparisons and subjective well-being in a divided society," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 69-90, September.
    5. Amelie F. Constant & Annabelle Krause & Ulf Rinne & Klaus F. Zimmermann, 2017. "Reservation wages of first- and second-generation migrants," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(13), pages 945-949, July.
    6. 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.
    7. Rose, David, 2006. "Social comparisons and social order: issues relating to a possible re-study of ‘W.G. Runciman’s relative deprivation and social justice’," ISER Working Paper Series 2006-48, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    8. 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.
    9. Laetitia Hauret & Donald R. Williams, 2019. "Relative Income and Pay Satisfaction: Further Evidence on the Role of the Reference Group," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 20(1), pages 307-329, January.
    10. Nattavudh Powdthavee, 2009. "How important is rank to individual perception of economic standing? A within-community analysis," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 7(3), pages 225-248, September.
    11. Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi & Knight, John, 2007. "Community, comparisons and subjective well-being in a divided society," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 69-90, September.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Endogenous Reference Standard; Social Comparison; Questionnaire data; Happiness; Minimum Income; Subjective Social Class;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household

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