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

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Abstract

The importance of social comparison in shaping individual utility has been widely documented by subjective well-being literature. So far, income has been the main dimension 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 hypothesis 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 conditions. 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 conditions.

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