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Journal ArticleDOI

On limiting the market for status signals

01 Jan 1994-Journal of Public Economics (North-Holland)-Vol. 53, Iss: 1, pp 91-110

AbstractIn many societies, individuals care how others view them. In their efforts to impress, such individuals engage in consumption signals which attempt to establish higher levels of status than their true status type. This leads to an inefficiency which offers the possibility of a Pareto- improving tax policy. The impacts of tax policy and benefits on the signalling equilibrium are considered.

Topics: Tax policy (59%), Inefficiency (58%), Consumption (economics) (56%), Pareto principle (52%)

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Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: This paper attempts to test the hypothesis that utility depends on income relative to a ‘comparison’ or reference level. Using data on 5,000 British workers, it provides two findings. First, workers' reported satisfaction levels are shown to be inversely related to their comparison wage rates. Second, holding income constant, satisfaction levels are shown to be strongly declining in the level of education. More generally, the paper tries to help begin the task of constructing an economics of job satisfaction.

2,730 citations


Posted Content
Abstract: The well-known Easterlin paradox points out that average happiness has remained constant over time despite sharp rises in GNP per head. At the same time, a micro literature has typically found positive correlations between individual income and individual measures of subjective well-being. This paper suggests that these two findings are consistent with the presence of relative income terms in the utility function. Income may be evaluated relative to others (social comparison) or to oneself in the past (habituation). We review the evidence on relative income from the subjective well-being literature. We also discuss the relation (or not) between happiness and utility, and discuss some nonhappiness research (behavioral, experimental, neurological) related to income comparisons. We last consider how relative income in the utility function can affect economic models of behavior in the domains of consumption, investment, economic growth, savings, taxation, labor supply, wages, and migration.

2,239 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: The well-known Easterlin paradox points out that average happiness has remained constant over time despite sharp rises in GNP per head. At the same time, a micro literature has typically found positive correlations between individual income and individual measures of subjective well-being. This paper suggests that these two findings are consistent with the presence of relative income terms in the utility function. Income may be evaluated relative to others (social comparison) or to oneself in the past (habituation). We review the evidence on relative income from the subjective well-being literature. We also discuss the relation (or not) between happiness and utility, and discuss some nonhappiness research (behavioral, experimental, neurological) related to income comparisons. We last consider how relative income in the utility function can affect economic models of behavior in the domains of consumption, investment, economic growth, savings, taxation, labor supply, wages, and migration.

2,005 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: This paper analyzes a model of social interaction in which individuals care about status as well as "intrinsic" utility (which refers to utility derived directly from consumption). Status is assumed to depend on public perceptions about an individual's predispositions rather than on the individual's actions. However, since predispositions are unobservable, actions signal predispositions and therefore affect status. When status is sufficiently important relative to intrinsic utility, many individuals conform to a single, homogeneous standard of behavior, despite heterogeneous underlying preferences. They are willing to conform because they recognize that even small departures from the social norm will seriously impair their status. The fact that society harshly censures all nonconformists is not simply assumed (indeed, status varies smoothly with perceived type); rather, it is produced endogenously. Despite this penalty, agents with sufficiently extreme preferences refuse to conform. The model provides an ...

1,661 citations


Posted Content
Abstract: The authors examine conditions under which 'Veblen effects' arise from the desire to achieve social status by signaling wealth through conspicuous consumption. While Veblen effects cannot ordinarily arise when preferences satisfy a 'single-crossing property,' they may emerge when this property fails. In that case, 'budget' brands are priced at marginal cost, while 'luxury' brands, though not intrinsically superior, are sold at higher prices to consumers seeking to advertise wealth. Luxury brands earn strictly positive profits under conditions that would, with standard formulations of preferences, yield marginal-cost pricing. The authors explore factors that induce Veblen effects and they investigate policy implications. Copyright 1996 by American Economic Association.

930 citations


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Abstract: Perhaps the most basic assumption of the economic theory of consumer demand is that "more is better than less." Virtually all of the major propositions of consumer theory can, in a certain sense, be derived from the assumption that "goods are good." Interestingly, however, this tenet seems to be violated by the behavior of many individuals in the low-income population, for many turn out to be eligible for a positive welfare benefit but do not in fact join the welfare rolls. For example, it has been estimated that in 1970, only about 69 percent of the families eligible for AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) participated in the program (see Richard Michel, 1980). The corresponding percentage for AFDC-U, the program for which families with an unemployed male are eligible, was only 43 percent and the participation rate in the Food Stamp Program was only 38 percent (see Maurice McDonald, 1977). This phenomenon has puzzled many investigators because such individuals do not locate on the boundaries of their budget sets. Consequently, most investigators ignore the problem when studying the effects of welfare programs on behavior. In this paper, this seemingly irrational rejection of an increase in income is modeled as resulting from welfare stigma -that is, from disutility arising from participation in a welfare program per se.1 The existence of stigma has been amply documented in the sociological literature (Patrick Horan and Patricia Austin, 1974; Lee Rainwater, 1979), where interviews of recipients have often uncovered feelings of lack of self-respect and " negative self-characterizations" from participation in welfare. Nevertheless, this phenomenon has not been modeled, and many questions consequently remain. When is the disutility of participation strong enough to prevent participation? Shouldn't we expect individuals to weigh the disutility of participation against the potential benefit in their decisions? What is the elasticity of participation with respect to the potential benefit? Also, in a slightly different vein, how are the work disincentives of welfare affected by stigma? These questions have been given scant attention by economists, yet they are crucial for our ability to predict the impact of various welfare programs on the lowincome population. Here these questions are addressed by modeling nonparticipation as a utility-maximizing decision. The model is developed and estimated for the AFDC program.2 The model posits an individual utility function containing not just disposable income, but

1,161 citations



Posted Content
Abstract: Status is, like Coase's social costs, a reciprocal phenomenon. Given that one person's gain in status can occur only at the expense of a loss in status for others, and that workers are free to choose their coworkers, it follows that the competitive wage structure within a firm must be one in which individual wage differences understate individual differences in marginal products.' The purpose of this paper is to examine a variety of empirical evidence that relates to this proposition about the firm's internal wage structure. The paper is organized as follows. Section I briefly summarizes the theoretical considerations that govern competitive wage determination when status matters to people and firms are viewed as voluntary associations of workers. Section II then confronts the predictions of Section I by examining pay and productivity schedules for a group of sales occupations for which these schedules are relatively easily observed. Section II also examines the relationship between wages and productivity for a sample of university professors, an occupation in which individual productivity differences are, for a variety of obvious reasons, relatively more difficult to measure. All of the evidence examined is consistent with the hypothesis that, within firms, wage rates vary substantially less than do individual productivity values. Section III discusses additional observations and evidence that bear on this same hypothesis. It suggests that the implicit market for status may strongly influence the ways in which firms are organized to carry out the tasks they perform. Section IV concludes by considering the claim that egalitarian internal wage structures arise because of "equity considerations." It argues that the concept of equity appears very closely linked to the concept of status, and suggests a strategy for assigning monetaty value to the equity considerations that so often dominate public policy decisions.

431 citations