Relative Status and Well-Being: Evidence from U.S. Suicide Deaths

FRB of San Francisco Working Paper No. 2007-12

43 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2007

See all articles by Mary C. Daly

Mary C. Daly

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Daniel J. Wilson

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Norman J. Johnson

U.S. Census Bureau - Center for Economic Studies

Date Written: April 2007

Abstract

This paper empirically assesses the theory of interpersonal income comparison using individual level data on suicide deaths in the United States. We model suicide as a choice variable, conditional on exogenous risk factors, reflecting an individual's assessment of current and expected future utility. Our empirical analysis considers whether suicide risk is systematically related to the income of others, holding own income and other individual factors fixed. We estimate proportional hazards and probit models of the suicide hazard using two separate and independent data sets: (1) the National Longitudinal Mortality Study and (2) the Detailed Mortality Files combined with the 5 percent Public Use Micro Sample of the 1990 decennial census. Results from both data sources show that, controlling for own income and individual characteristics, individual suicide risk rises with reference group income. This result holds for reference groups defined broadly, such as by county, and more narrowly by county and one demographic marker (e.g., age, sex, race). These findings are robust to alternative specifications and cannot be explained by geographic variation in cost of living, access to emergency medical care, mismeasurement of deaths by suicide, or by bias due to endogeneity of own income. Our results confirm findings using self-reported happiness data and are consistent with models of utility featuring external habit or Keeping Up with the Joneses preferences.

Keywords: Relative income, interpersonal comparisons, interdependent preferences, suicide, happiness, Keeping Up with the Joneses

JEL Classification: I31, D6, H0, J0

Suggested Citation

Daly, Mary Colleen and Wilson, Daniel J. and Johnson, Norman J., Relative Status and Well-Being: Evidence from U.S. Suicide Deaths (April 2007). FRB of San Francisco Working Paper No. 2007-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1026351 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1026351

Mary Colleen Daly (Contact Author)

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco ( email )

101 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States

Daniel J. Wilson

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco ( email )

101 Market Street
Mail Stop 1130
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.frbsf.org/economics/economists/dwilson.html

Norman J. Johnson

U.S. Census Bureau - Center for Economic Studies ( email )

Suitland Federal Center
Washington, DC 20233
United States

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