NERI Seminar Dublin: Importance of relative income position for well-being

15 March 2017, 3:50pm - 5:30pm

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‘The Spirit level revisited: importance of relative income position for well-being’

Speaker: Dr Lisa Wilson, Research Assistant, NERI

Date: 15th March, 2017

Time: Tea and coffee from 15:50. The seminar will commence at 16:00

Venue: INTO Learning Centre, 38 Parnell Square, Dublin 1


In Wilkinson and Pickett’s (2009) The Spirit Level it is argued that the negative effects of income inequality for a range of social outcomes can be explained by the effects of social position, for which they argue relative income position provides an adequate proxy. This book has been highly influential in generating a lively debate about the potentially socially harmful effects of high levels of income inequality.

Less concern has been given to the causal mechanisms proposed by Wilkinson and Pickett. Addressing this, analysis of data from the UK Poverty & Social Exclusion Survey 2012 is conducted to examine the relationship between relative income and a range of wellbeing outcomes. Furthermore, the net effect of relative income is considered, over and above other aspects of social stratification.

The results show that relative income exerts only a weak to moderate impact across the dimensions of wellbeing. These effects are further weakened by the inclusion of material conditions, reflecting the importance of not neglecting material differences in understanding differences in wellbeing. Furthermore, the results show that the effects of relative income are significantly weakened by the inclusion of other aspects of social stratification. A more complex story emerges pointing to the need for a move beyond a sole focus on the distribution of income, toward a broader perspective on social stratification both at macro and micro levels in order to account for differences in wellbeing. 

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