Which Social Comparisons Influence Happiness with Unequal Pay?

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2020

Boston University Questrom School of Business Research Paper No. 3645284

44 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2020

See all articles by Eleanor Putnam-Farr

Eleanor Putnam-Farr

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; Rice University - Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business

Carey Morewedge

Boston University, Questrom School of Business

Date Written: July 7, 2020

Abstract

We examine which social comparisons most affect happiness with pay that is unequally distributed (e.g., salaries and bonuses). We find that ensemble representation – attention to statistical properties of distributions such as their range and mean –– makes the proximal extreme (i.e., the maximum or minimum) and distribution mean salient social comparison standards. Happiness with a salary or bonus is more affected by how it compares to the distribution mean and proximal extreme than by exemplar-based properties of the payment, like its comparison to the nearest payment or its distribution rank. This holds for randomly assigned and performance-based payments. Process studies demonstrate that ensemble representations lead people to spontaneously select these statistical properties of pay distributions as comparison standards. Exogenously increasing the salience of less extreme exemplars moderates the influence of the maximum on happiness with pay, but exogenously increasing the salience of the distribution maximum does not. As with other social comparison standards, top-down information moderates their selection. Happiness with a bonus payment is influenced by the largest payment made to others who solve the same math problems, for instance, but not by the largest payment made to others who solve different verbal problems. Our findings yield theoretical and practical insights about which members of groups are selected as social comparison standards, effects of relative income on happiness, and the attentional processes involved in ensemble representation.

Keywords: social comparison, ensemble representation, attention, happiness, equality

Suggested Citation

Putnam-Farr, Eleanor and Putnam-Farr, Eleanor and Morewedge, Carey, Which Social Comparisons Influence Happiness with Unequal Pay? (July 7, 2020). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2020, Boston University Questrom School of Business Research Paper No. 3645284, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3645284 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3645284

Eleanor Putnam-Farr (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

77 Massachusetts Ave.
E62-584
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Rice University - Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business ( email )

6100 South Main Street
P.O. Box 1892
Houston, TX 77005-1892
United States

Carey Morewedge

Boston University, Questrom School of Business ( email )

595 Commonwealth Ave
614, Marketing Department
Boston, MA 02215
United States

HOME PAGE: http://careymorewedge.com

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