Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 503–525 | Cite as

Family Economic Well-Being, and (Class) Relative Wealth: An Empirical Analysis of Life Satisfaction of Secondary School Students in Three Italian Cities

  • Leonardo BecchettiEmail author
  • Fabio Pisani
Research Paper


The aim of the study is to shed light on an under-investigated topic—the determinants of life satisfaction of the young—by means of an econometric analysis which focuses specifically on the relationship between household wealth and life satisfaction of secondary school students living in three Italian cities: Rome, Milan and Genoa. We find that family home ownership, mortgages and (class) relative wealth significantly affect the life satisfaction of students. Other significant controls are geographical residence (those living in Milan are significantly less satisfied with life), the mother’s occupation, and trust in family and friendships. The characteristics of our household wealth variables make it hard to conceive any inverse causality (and endogeneity highly unlikely), thus suggesting a direct causality nexus for these factors. We explain why our research provides important insights that should be taken into account when developing policies to promote the subjective well-being of the young.


Life satisfaction Secondary school Relative wealth 



We wish to thank Gianpaolo Barbetta, Stefano Caiazza, Stefano Cima, Decio Coviello, Jerry Dwyer, Iftekhar Hasan, Tullio Jappelli, James Lothian, Chiara Monticone, Francesco Nucci, Mario Padula, Paul Wachtel and all participants at the XIXth Tor Vergata Financial Conference for useful comments and suggestions. Managerial support from Marco Bracaglia and the Osservatorio sul Credito, institutional support from the Ministry of Education and financial support from Unicredit, Fondazione Cariplo and Fondazione Carige are gratefully acknowledged.


  1. Argyle, M. (1987). The Psychology of Happiness, Methuen, London (trad. it. Psicologia della felicità, Cortina Editore, Milano).Google Scholar
  2. Becchetti, L., Giachin Ricca, E., Pelloni, A. (2012) The relationship between social leisure and life satisfaction: causality and policy indicators, Social Indicators Research, forth. Google Scholar
  3. Becchetti, L., Pelloni, A., & Rossetti, F. (2008). Happiness and sociability. Kyklos, 61(3), 343–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beegle, K., Himelein, K. and Ravallion, M. (2009). Frame-of-reference bias in subjective welfare regressions. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4904.Google Scholar
  5. Bergman, M. M., & Scott, J. (2001). Young adolescents’ wellbeing and health-risk behaviours: Gender and socio-economic differences’. Journal of Adolescence, 24(2), 183–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark, A. (2008b). “Happiness, habits and high rank: Comparisons in economic and social life”, PSE, Discussion Paper No. 2008-61Google Scholar
  7. Clark, A. E., Frijters, P., & Schields, M. A. (2008). Relative income, happiness and utility: An explanation for the Easterlin paradox and other puzzles. Journal of Economic Literature, 46(1), 95–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark, A., Kristensen, N., & Westergård-Nielsen, N. (2009). Economic satisfaction and income rank in small neighbourhoods. Journal of the European Economic Association, 7(2–3), 519–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Colombo, E., Michelangeli, A., & Stanca, L. (2010). La Dolce Vita: Hedonic estimates of quality of life in Italian cities. Working Papers 201, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics.Google Scholar
  10. Corrado, L. & Weeks, M. (2010) “Identification strategies in survey response using vignettes,” Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1031.Google Scholar
  11. Cramm, J. M., Møller, V., & Nieboer, A. P. (2011). Individual- and neighbourhood-level indicators of subjective well-being in a small and poor Eastern Cape township: The effect of health, social capital, marital status, and income. Social indicators research. doi: 10.1007/s11205-011-9790-0.
  12. Deneulin, S., & Townsend, N. (2007). Public goods, global public goods and the common good. International Journal of Social Economics, 34(1–2), 19–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dipartimento delle finanze - Agenzia del Territorio (2011) “Gli immobili in Italia 2011” in
  15. Dockery, A. M. (2005). The happiness of young Australians: Empirical evidence on the role of labour market experience. The Economic Record, 81(255), 322–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dorn, D., Fischer, J. A., Kirchgassner, G., & Sousa-Poza, A. (2007). Is it culture of democracy? The impact of democracy, and culture on happiness. Social Indicators Research, 823, 505–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Easterlin, R. A. (1995). Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all? Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 27(1), 35–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Easterlin, R. A., & Angelescu, L. (2009). Happiness and growth the world over: Time series evidence on the happiness-income paradox. IZA Discussion Paper (4060).Google Scholar
  19. Farrell, S., Aubry, T., & Coulombe, D. (2004). Neighborhoods and neighbors. Do they contribute to personal well-being? Journal of Community Psychology, 32(1), 9–25.Google Scholar
  20. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A. (2005). Income and well-being: An empirical analysis of the comparison income effect. Journal of Public Economics, 895–6, 997–1019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Frey, B., & Stutzer, A. (2002). What can economists learn from happiness research. Journal of Economic Literature, 40, 402–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Frey, B., & Stutzer, A. (2010). “Happiness and Public Choice”. Public Choice. Numbers, 144(3–4), 557–573.Google Scholar
  23. Gentile, E., & Imberman, S. A. (2012). Dressed for success? The effect of school uniforms on student achievement and behavior. Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, 71(1), 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Keese, M., Schmitz, H. (January 14, 2011) Broke, ill, and obese: The effect of household debt on health. SOEP paper No. 350. Available at SSRN: or doi: 10.2139/ssrn.1750216.
  25. King, G. A., & Wand, J. (2007). Comparing incomparable survey responses: Evaluating and selecting anchoring vignettes. Political Analysis, 15, 46–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Knies, G. (2012): “Life Satisfaction and Material Well-Being of Children in the UK”. Conference paper, population association of America 2012.Google Scholar
  27. Pichler, F. (2006). Subjective quality of life of young Europeans. Feeling happy but who knows why? Social Indicators Research, 75, 419–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schwarz, N., & Clore, G. L. (1983). Mood, misattribution, and judgments of well- being: Informative and directive functions of affective states. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(3), 513–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Senik, C. (2009). Direct evidence on income comparisons and their welfare effects. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 72, 408–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stevenson, B., and Wolfers, J. (2008) Economic growth and subjective well-being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox. CEPR Discussion Papers 6944.Google Scholar
  31. van de Wetering, E. J., van Exel, N. J. A., & Brouwer, W. B. F. (2010). Piecing the jigsaw puzzle of adolescent happiness. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31(6), 923–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Van Praag, B. (2011). Well-being inequality and reference groups: an agenda for new research. Journal of Economic Inequality, 9, 111–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Economia e Istituzioni, Facoltà di EconomiaUniversità di Roma Tor VergataRomeItaly

Personalised recommendations