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Income Inequality, Status Seeking, and Consumption

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  • D12 - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
  • D91 - Intertemporal Consumer Choice
  • Life Cycle Models And Saving
  • O16 - Financial Markets
  • Saving And Capital Investment
  • Corporate Finance And Governance
  • E21 - Consumption
  • Saving
  • Wealth
  • Education


Using the Chinese urban household survey data between 1997 and 2006, we find that income inequality has a negative (positive) impact on households’ consumption (savings), even after we control for family income. We argue that people save to improve their social status when social status is associated with pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits. Rising income inequality can strengthen the incentives of status-seeking savings by increasing the benefit of improving status and enlarging the wealth level that is required for status upgrading. We also find that the negative effect of income inequality on consumption is stronger for poorer and younger people, and income inequality stimulates more education investment, which are consistent with the status seeking hypothesis.

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