Income Inequality Is Associated With Stronger Social Comparison Effects: The Effect of Relative Income on Life Satisfaction

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Abstract

Previous research has shown that having rich neighbors is associated with reduced levels of subjective well-being, an effect that is likely due to social comparison. The current study examined the role of income inequality as a moderator of this relative income effect. Multilevel analyses were conducted on a sample of more than 1.7 million people from 2,425 counties in the United States. Results showed that higher income inequality was associated with stronger relative income effects. In other words, people were more strongly influenced by the income of their neighbors when income inequality was high.

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