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ISER Discussion Paper No. 930
Osaka University, Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), Osaka
Economists have long been concerned that negative attitudes about relative income reduce social welfare. This paper investigates whether such attitudes can be mitigated by a simple information treatment. Toward this end, we conducted an original randomized online survey experiment in the US and the UK. As a baseline result, we find that UK respondents compare their incomes with others' at a much higher rate than US subjects do. Additionally, we find that our information treatment - suggesting that comparing income with others may diminish their welfare even when income levels are actually increasing - made respondents compare incomes more, rather than less. Interestingly, we find such effects only among UK respondents. The mechanism for this among UK respondents seems to be driven by those who are initially less comparison-conscious becoming more comparison-conscious, indicating that our information treatment gives moral "license" to make comparisons by informing that others actually do.
income comparison
information treatment
randomized survey experiments
inter-country survey
discrete choices approach
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Working Paper

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