Quaderni del dipartimento di economia politica e statistica No. 731
Are unhappiness, high concern for money and scarcity of social capital different faces of the same phenomenon? Economists tend to treat these variables as distinct correlates of well-being. On the contrary, positive psychologists argue that they all relate to materialism, a system of personal values ascribing great importance in life to extrinsic motivations and low priority to intrinsic motivations. Using data from two European cross-sectional surveys and the German Socio-Economic Panel, I test the hypothesis that material interests, proxied by the effects of individual and reference income on well-being, are associated with low levels of social capital. The results suggest that people with scarce social capital tend to have greater material interests, whereas the negative effect of income comparisons on well-being is eliminated for individuals exhibiting the highest levels of social capital. The implication of such finding is that promoting social capital reduces people's material concerns and has positive impact on their well-being. The results from a country-level analysis additionally show that, since social capital moderates the importance of income for well-being on individual level, the well-being gap between income groups is significantly smaller in countries with higher social capital.
subjective well-being life satisfaction social capital materialism relative income social comparisons happiness inequality