Inequality and Social Comparisons

Inequality, Geography, and Perceptions Inequality and Social Comparisons | Inequality, Politics, and Group Dynamics | Inequality and the Top-End | Inequality and the Workplace | Inequality and Health | Earlier Topics of Focus

Defining Themes

  • When individuals make comparisons between their own economic statuses and those of others, to whom do they compare themselves?
  • What are the roles of geography, media diet, and other factors in shaping people’s reference groups?
  • What indicators tend to be particularly salient to individuals’ perceptions of economic inequality, and are these indicators reliable measurements?

Specific Research Questions 

  • Do people compare themselves to all of those around them, or primarily to a smaller group of “people like them?” Who is included in that group?
  • Does rising economic inequality change the kinds of comparisons that people make?
  • How should researchers make sense of the fact that the extent of economic inequality at the zip code-, state-, and country-levels is correlated with different (and sometimes contradictory) measures of relative happiness? At which levels are others’ incomes most salient in evaluating one’s own position? 
  • How does social media trigger status comparisons, and how does information about status from media sources interact with information provided by one’s physical environment?
  • What role do social comparisons play in influencing different forms of subjective well-being?
  • How can we disaggregate the effects of relative income inequality on well-being from the effects of lack of material resources?
  • What connection, if any, do social comparisons’ effects on happiness and subjective well-being have to consumer decision making?
  • What are the potential macro-level consequences of such inequality-driven comparisons, from effects on population health to household savings rates and asset market bubbles?