Woo Chang Kang, Jae Seung Lee, and Byungkwon Song
Envy and Pride: How Economic Inequality Deepens Happiness Inequality in South Korea (KIRL Working Paper 20-04)
This paper examines how economic inequality at the local level affects individuals’ subjective well-being (SWB) through social comparison in Seoul, South Korea. We implement a multi-level analysis combining asset inequality, calculated using the actual transaction prices of apartments, and public opinion surveys conducted by Seoul Metropolitan City between 2008 and 2016. Our analysis shows that inequality negatively affects SWB among respondents whose family income is lower than the median (the envy effect), but drives up SWB among the other half (the pride effect). Further analysis on the effect of inequality on subjective class awareness corroborates a social comparison mechanism: the haves embrace an upper-class awareness as local inequality increases, while the have-nots embrace a lower class awareness. These findings suggest that, despite concerns about economic inequality and its negative consequences, calling for policy reform to reduce inequality may be unpersuasive to the better off members of society, especially if doing so increases individual financial burdens.
Keywords: inequality, social comparison, pride, envy, South Korea