Compared to Whom? Inequality, Social Comparison, and Happiness in the U.S.
Why are income and subjective well-being related? Scholars have offered two very different sorts of explanations, suggesting that income’s positive association with happiness and life satisfaction is attributable to 1) the goods that income “buys” (the absolute income explanation) or 2) the social comparisons that income engenders (the relative income explanation). The presentation will summarize key findings of a national RDD survey of 728 U.S. adults conducted in 2012 that was designed to address this issue. Respondents were interviewed about the ways in which they compare themselves to others in terms of income and of a variety of other goods with positional characteristics. The data provide unique leverage on some foundational debates and questions in the field of “Happiness Studies.”
Arthur Alderson, Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, is a visiting researcher of the research unit Inequality and Social Policy til July 2013. His research interests lie in the general areas of social stratification, economic and political sociology, comparative and historical sociology, and international development.