Social Indicators Research

, Volume 109, Issue 3, pp 439–469 | Cite as

Subjective Well-Being: Keeping Up with the Perception of the Joneses



Using data from the US General Social Survey 1972–2004, we study the role of perceptions and status in self-reported happiness. Reference group income negatively relates to own happiness and high perceptions about own relative income, quality of dwelling, and social class relate positively and very significantly to happiness. Perceptions about income and status matter more for females, and for low income, conservative, more social, and less trusting individuals. Dwelling perceptions matter more for males, and for middle income, married, conservative, more social, and less trusting individuals.


Happiness Social comparison Status Perceptions 

JEL Classifications

D14 D63 I31 


  1. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2000a). The rising well-being of the young. NBER Working Paper No. 6102.Google Scholar
  2. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2000b). Well-being over time in Britain and the USA. NBER Working Paper No. 7787.Google Scholar
  3. Clark, A. E., & Oswald, A. J. (1994). Unhappiness and unemployment. Economic Journal, 104 , 648–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Clark, A .E., Frijters, P., & Shields, M. A. (2008). Relative income, happiness and utility: An explanation for the easterlin paradox and other puzzles. Journal of Economic Literature, 46, 95–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clark, A. E., Kristensen, N., & Westergård-Nielsen, N. (2009). Economic satisfaction and income rank in small neighbourhoods. Journal of the European Economic Association, 7, 519–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark, A. E., & Oswald, A. J. (1996). Satisfaction and comparison income. Journal of Public Economics, 61, 359–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clark, A. E., & Senik, C. (2010). Who compares to whom? The anatomy of income comparisons in Europe. The Economic Journal, 120, 573–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. DiTella, R., Haisken-De-New, J., & MacCulloch, R. (2010). Happiness adaptation to income and to status in an individual panel. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  9. Duesenberry, J. (1949). Income, savings and the theory of consumer behaviour. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Easterlin, R. A. (1963). Towards a socio-economic theory of fertility: A survey of recent research on economic factors in American fertility. In S. J. Behrman, L. Corsa Jr., R.Freedman (Eds.), Fertility and family planning: A world vew, (pp. 127–156). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  11. Easterlin, R. A. (1973). Relative economic status and the American fertility swing. In E. B. Sheldon (Ed.), Family economic behavior: Problems and prospects, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott for Institute of Life Insurance.Google Scholar
  12. Freedman, D. S. (1963). The relation of economic status on fertility. American Economic Review, 53, 414–426.Google Scholar
  13. Frey, S. B., & Stutzer, A. (2002). What can economists learn from happiness research. Journal of Economic Literature, 40, 402–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Frijters, P., & Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A. (2003). How important Is methodology for the estimates of the determinants of happiness? The Economic Journal, 114, 641–659.Google Scholar
  15. Gilbert, P., & Trower, P. (1990). The evolution and manifestation of social anxiety. In R. W. Crozier (Ed.), Shyness and embarrassment: Perspectives from social psychology, (pp. 144–177). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Graham, C. (2004). Can happiness research contribute to development economics? Washington DC: The Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  17. Luttmer, E. (2005). Neighbors as negatives: Relative earnings and well-being. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120, 963–1002.Google Scholar
  18. Moller, V. (1989). Can’t get no satisfaction. Indicator South Africa, 7, 43–46.Google Scholar
  19. Oswald, J. A. (1997). Happiness and economic performance. Economic Journal, 107, 1815–1831.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rablen, M. D. (2008). Relativity, rank and the utility of income. The Economic Journal, 118, 801–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Senik, C. (2009). Direct evidence on income comparison and their welfare effects. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  22. Van Praag, B. M. S., & Kapteyn, A. (1973). Wat is Ons Inkomen Ons Waard? (How do we value our income?)Economisch Statistische Berichten, 58, 360–382.Google Scholar
  23. Wachter, M. L. (1972). A labor supply model for secondary workers. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 54, 141–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wachter, M. L. (1974). A new approach to the equilibrium labor force. Economica, 41, 35–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Winkelmann, R., Luechinger, S., & Stutzer, A. (2007a). The happiness gains from sorting and matching in the labor market. University of Zurich Working Paper.Google Scholar
  26. Winkelmann, R., Boes, S. & Lipp, M. (2007b). Money illusion under test. Economics Letters, 94, 332–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Winkelmann, R., Boes, S. & Staub, K. (2007c). The hidden cost of parental income: Why less may be more. University of Zurich Working Paper.Google Scholar
  28. Wright, S. C. (1985). Health satisfaction: A detailed test of the multiple discrepancies theory model. Social Indicators Research, 17, 299–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Deakin UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Houston and CEPRHoustonUSA

Personalised recommendations