Do envy and compassion pave the way to unhappiness? Social preferences and life satisfaction in a Spanish city

Espín, Antonio M., Moreno-Herrero, Dolores, Sánchez-Campillo, José and Rodríguez Martín, José A. (2018) Do envy and compassion pave the way to unhappiness? Social preferences and life satisfaction in a Spanish city. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19 (2) . pp. 443-469. ISSN 1389-4978 [Article] (doi:10.1007/s10902-016-9828-8)

PDF - Final accepted version (with author's formatting)
Download (1MB) | Preview


Mounting evidence shows that people’s self-reported life satisfaction (LS) is negatively related to income inequality. Under the interpretation that the relationship between macro-level variables and LS reflects individuals’ social preferences, this finding indicates that most people display inequality-averse preferences. We explore the relationship between self-reports on inequality aversion and LS in a citywide representative survey/experiment conducted in Spain. If self-reported well-being can be used to infer people’s social preferences, LS should correlate negatively with both “envy” and “compassion” scores (i.e., how much one suffers from disadvantageous and advantageous inequality, respectively). We find that LS relates negatively to envy but positively to compassion, which would imply that suffering from observing poorer others, paradoxically, increases well-being. Using an incentivized Dictator Game as a measure of generous behavior, we reject the hypothesis that the positive link between compassion and LS is actually driven by generosity. We discuss how these findings could indicate that the way LS is used to assess social preferences in the population should be revised.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > Business School > Economics
Item ID: 21154
Notes on copyright: This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Journal of Happiness Studies. The final authenticated version is available online at:
Depositing User: Antonio Espin Martin
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2017 16:46
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 20:13

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Activity Overview
6 month trend
6 month trend

Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.