Reign in hell or serve in heaven? A cross-country journey into the relative vs absolute perceptions of wellbeing

L. Corazzini, L. Esposito, F. Majorano

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44 Citations (Scopus)


Questionnaires exploring the relativist vs absolutist perception of wellbeing are administered to 3883 students in eight different countries, four low-income countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Kenya and Laos, 1924 respondents) and four high-income countries (Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, 1959 respondents). Our data reveal that wellbeing is perceived mainly in relative terms with the strength of relativism being higher for respondents in high-income countries. However, when the satisfaction of some 'basic needs' is at stake the absolutist concern becomes powerful. Personal characteristics such as gender and background of studies have a significant role in determining respondents' perception of wellbeing. Finally, additional insights emerge from our study. Interpersonal comparisons take place by looking both 'upward' and 'downward' along the income scale, not only income ranking but also the magnitude of reference incomes plays a role and the perception of wellbeing is more elastic to absolute rather than relative income.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)715-730
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012


  • Wellbeing perceptions
  • Cross-country questionnaire study
  • Survey experiment

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