Would you rather make $100,000 a year or $200,000 a year? You probably think that’s a dumb question, and in its current form, it is. Of course you would rather take home twice the money. You can make the argument that you’d have to work more, or work in a field you don’t like, but for this case, we’re assuming that for the same job, if you could either make 100,000 or 200,000 dollars, you’d pick 200,000. However, the answer may actually change based on what your peers make. Researchers have found people are happier based on their relative wealth rather than your absolute wealth. So, let’s ask the question again with a twist. Would you rather make $200,000 and your peers make $300,000, or would you rather make $100,000 and your peers make $50,000? The research suggests that you would be happier making the 100K instead of 200K.
On a related note, the New York Times has an interactive map of the United States, which poses the question “What Percent are you?” Not only does it tell what percent you are in compared to the rest of the United States, you can also type in a figure for household income, and it will tell what percent you are in in a particular “zone” or area. For instance, a household income of $100,000 puts you in the top 7% in Flint, Michigan, but the same income puts you in the top 40% around San Francisco.
Yup, behavioral economics in full swing here. Humans can’t help but make comparisons with that which is around them (undoubtedly this is somehow evolutionarily advantageous). We aren’t the rational beings that say “golly, I am satisfying my tastes and preferences way greater at $200,000 than $100,000,” we say “I feel so poor/incompetent compared to my friends/neighbors!” until we make more than them. Yay humans