Feeling Poor, Feeling Rich, or Feeling Middle-Class: An Empirical Investigation
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 9456
33 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2020
Date Written: October 27, 2020
Based on their objective economic situation and comparing with their peers, individuals form perceptions of their economic position in a society. Data from the three waves of the Life in Transition surveys of European countries show that these perceptions systematically deviate from the rankings obtained using consumption levels. People position themselves in the middle ranks in larger numbers than those who are in the middle ranks according to their consumption levels. Correspondingly, many people who objectively are classified in the top, richest, or bottom, poorest, ranks subjectively feel that they are in the middle class. This puzzling “bunching in the middle” is the focus of this paper. Explanations are tested and discarded that consider subjective perceptions as misperceptions or the result of other mistakes due to data limitations (such as tail bias). The paper concludes that rather than reflecting a subjective assessment of the distribution of welfare, subjective rankings reveal subjective economic well-being. The paper show that monetary consumption is a strong predictor of subjective economic well-being, but that the latter is influenced by many other factors, including economic security, proxied by employment status or other measures of human capital, such as health and education. These findings have policy relevance, since redistribution measures aiming at simply protecting consumption levels may not be sufficient to restore the economic well-being provided by having fulltime secure types of employment.
Keywords: Inequalities, subjective ranking, well-being
JEL Classification: D31, C25, D3, I31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation