Relative Deprivation

Another good example of the link between SWB and social comparison is seen in the study entitled: “Subjective Well-Being and Relative Deprivation: An Empirical Link,” where there is an exploration of subjective well being through two concepts, happiness (satisfaction through income and life,) and relative deprivation (satisfaction based on other factors, specifically the comparison of oneself between people richer or poorer than himself/herself). The paper aims to prove that subjective well being is more dependent on relative satisfaction than absolute income.

The methodology used in the said study is unlike that of the other researches on the subject, which uses “happiness surveys” to collect data. The data used here is the panel data, to be specific, the German Socio Economic Panel (an ongoing panel survey with re-interviews conducted yearly), which makes use of an 11 point scale (0 completely dissatisfied,) to (10, completely satisfied) to measure subjective well being by looking at a person’s satisfaction with life in general and satisfaction with income.

The data is based on the years 1990-2003, with adult samples asked about the two questions mentioned before. Ambrosio and Frick (2004) relate: “The income measure we investigate is monthly net household income. This so-called ‘income screener’ is supposed to give a measure of the more regular income components received by all household members at the time of the interview. This variable might be an inferior measure of economic well-being when compared to annual income since it tends to neglect certain irregular income components (like Christmas bonuses, annual bonuses, etc.) but it certainly fits better to our time-dependent measures of subjective well-being. ” (p. 7).

The results of this study show that subjective well being is affected by relative deprivation. Social comparison plays a big role in the life satisfaction of the individual. People can’t do away with comparing themselves with the people around them. In their research, Ambrosio and Frick sum it up (the findings) with Runciman’s beautiful words:

“If people have no reason to expect or hope for more than they can achieve, they will be less discontent with what they have, or even grateful simply to be able to hold on to it. But if, on the other hand, they have been led to see as a possible goal the relative prosperity of some more fortunate community with which they can directly compare themselves, then they will remain discontent with their lot until they have succeeded in catching up” (as cited, Ambrosio and Frick, 2004).


I feel that the weakness of the study on social comparison would be that the people’s preferences may vary in terms of the following: people who communicate often with their neighbors are more prone to affecting their SWBs as compared to people who don’t usually chat/bond with the neighbors; Educational Attainment is also a factor because the social comparison theory only applies if the individual’s neighbors have the same educational attainment with that individual. These factors need to be considered first and incorporated in the research/study, most especially in the “happiness questionnaires. ”

Looking at the aims, data, methodologies, supporting evidences, and the results of the features studies in my paper makes me realize that Subjective Well Being does not rely solely on income or wealth. Money or income, for this matter, may be an important factor in a person’s level of SWB, but, there are still numerous factors that income is dependent on. The main factors would be both unemployment and social comparison (another term to use would be relative income/relative position. ) These three: Income (Money), Unemployment, and Social Comparison are the biggest determinants of SWB levels in people.

Let me just recap on the major points of this paper: Income mostly has a greater effect in the SWB levels of the poor, (e. g. if the poor suddenly get wealth) since this would lead to a big increase in the poor individual’s SWB levels. Although most of the rich nations have high SWB levels, when it comes to acquiring additional wealth, there is really no significant increase seen in wealthy people. (This can even be seen in the newly invented “Map of Happiness,” where the Latinos, even amidst socio- economic and political crisis, have been considered as one of the happiest people in the world today.)

Unemployment, on the other hand, has a negative effect on SWB levels if there is a norm in that person’s society placing importance on employment seeing unemployed individuals as “useless people. ” Take note, the higher the social norm of employment, the lower the SWB levels of the unemployed will be. Last but not the least, social comparison only has an effect on a person’s level of subjective well being if he/she has been socializing with the people that person is compared to, and only if the “neighbors” of that specific individual has similarities with the individual in terms of educational attainment, background, etc.

Personally, I believe that it is up to the person to not let himself/herself be affected by the social norm/social comparison. It may be hard because it has always been the culture of people, but then again, nothing is too hard if you try. I would also like to emphasize on the importance of the studies on subjective well being. Through these studies, people could learn that although well being or happiness is hard to achieve, the experts have spent their time and their lives giving us one conclusion: “Happiness lies in the hands of the individual.


Ahuvia, Aaron C. ( 2001, October 10). Individualism/Collectivism and Cultures of Happiness: A Theoretical Conjecture on the Relationship between Consumption, Culture, and Subjective Well-Being at the National Level. Journal of Happiness Studies 3, 22-26. Retrieved March 13, 2008, from http://sambuca. umdl. umich. edu:8080/bitstream/2027. 42/43060/1/10902_2004_Article_404141. pdf