The Journal of Economic Inequality

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 415–434 | Cite as

Income inequality and well-being in the U.S.: evidence of geographic-scale- and measure-dependence

  • John Ifcher
  • Homa ZarghameeEmail author
  • Carol Graham


U.S. income inequality has risen dramatically in recent decades. Researchers consistently find that greater income inequality measured at the state or national level is associated with diminished subjective well-being (SWB) in the U.S. We conduct the first multi-scale analysis (i.e., at the ZIP-code, MSA, and state levels) of the inequality-SWB relationship using SWB data from the U.S. Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index and income inequality data from the American Community Survey. We use the rich set of SWB measures afforded by the dataset (evaluative, positive hedonic, and negative hedonic) to examine the consistency of the relationship. We find that the relationship is both scale-dependent and measure-dependent: income inequality is SWB-diminishing in large regions for all measures, SWB-diminishing in small regions for negative hedonic measures, and SWB-improving in small regions for evaluative and positive hedonic measures. Lastly, we find that taking all regions together, the net relationship between income inequality and SWB is negative for all hedonic measures.


Subjective well-being Income inequality Happiness Distribution of income Health Scale-dependence Measure-dependence 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Santa Clara UniversitySanta ClaraUSA
  2. 2.Barnard CollegeNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Brookings InstitutionWashingtonUSA

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