Lower in Rank, But Happier: The Complex Relationship between Status and Happiness

LICOS Discussion Paper Series, Discussion Paper 385/2016

28 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2016

See all articles by Bert Van Landeghem

Bert Van Landeghem

KU Leuven - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance (LICOS); University of Sheffield - Department of Economics

Anneleen Vandeplas

KU Leuven - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance (LICOS)

Date Written: September 29, 2016

Abstract

Case studies across the social sciences have established a positive relationship between social status and happiness. In observational data, however, identification challenges remain severe. This study exploits the fact that in India people are assigned a caste from birth. In data on 1000 individuals living in the Punjab, a state with a large income gap between middle and high castes in spite of similar education levels, we find that those in the middle are the least happy. Our findings resemble those described by the famous paradox of unhappy Olympic silver medal winners, which finds a V-shaped relation between status and happiness. The same trend is much less pronounced in data on 1000 individuals living in the state of Andhra Pradesh with much smaller economic differences between castes. We hypothesize that these patterns reflect the relatively high weight of upward comparisons for middle caste groups in Punjab, based on their stronger similarity in ability attributes with castes higher up in the hierarchy.

Keywords: subjective well-being, happiness, social status, social comparison

JEL Classification: I31, C1, O12

Suggested Citation

Van Landeghem, Bert and Vandeplas, Anneleen, Lower in Rank, But Happier: The Complex Relationship between Status and Happiness (September 29, 2016). LICOS Discussion Paper Series, Discussion Paper 385/2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2877124 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2877124

Bert Van Landeghem (Contact Author)

KU Leuven - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance (LICOS) ( email )

Waaistraat 6 - box 3511
Leuven, 3000
Belgium

University of Sheffield - Department of Economics ( email )

9 Mappin Street
Sheffield, S1 4DT
UNITED KINGDOM

Anneleen Vandeplas

KU Leuven - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance (LICOS) ( email )

Waaistraat 6 - box 3511
Leuven, 3000
Belgium

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