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SOCIAL COMPARISON AND SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING: DOES THE HEALTH OF OTHERS MATTER?

Authors


Department of Economics and Statistics and CELPE, University of Salerno, 84084 Fisciano (SA), Italy. Email: vcarrieri@unisa.it. The author wishes to thank Maria De Paola for her comments, ideas and suggestions on a preliminary version of this paper. Thanks are also due to participants at the Italian Health Economics Association 2010 Annual Conference (Turin, 2010), Italian Economic Association 2010 Annual Conference (Catania, 2010) and Elena Granaglia, Leandro Elia and Paolo Trevisan for their comments. The usual disclaimers apply.

ABSTRACT

The importance of social comparison in shaping individual utility has been widely documented by subjective well-being literature. So far, income and unemployment have been the main dimensions considered in social comparison. This paper aims to investigate whether subjective well-being is influenced by inter-personal comparison with respect to health. Thus, we study the effects of the health of others and relative health hypotheses on two measures of subjective well-being: happiness and subjective health. Using data from the Italian Health Conditions survey, we show that a high incidence of chronic conditions and disability among reference groups negatively affects both happiness and subjective health. Such effects are stronger among people in the same condition. These results, robust to different econometric specifications and estimation techniques, suggest the presence of some sympathy in individual preferences with respect to health and reveal that other people's health status serves as a benchmark to assess one's own health condition.

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