The Inequalities of Well-being and Income


Rauf, Tamkinat (2023). The Inequalities of Well-being and Income.


The past five decades have witnessed a cultural movement towards greater consideration of well-being and mental health. Hallmarks of this cultural change are reflected in media discourse as well as a number of disparate social trends, including the growth of mental health and coaching industries, management practices, and shifting grounds for resource contention in organizational, legal, and political spaces. Does this change in our cultural logics impede or augment the pursuit of a fair and just society? As I argue in this dissertation, the answer depends on both how well-being and income are related, and how the lay public perceives this relationship. The first study reviews some of the key challenges to estimating the causal effect of income on mental well-being, and uses a novel approaches to estimate income effects in two US datasets. The findings suggest that the income-wellbeing link varies over the life course, with psychological well-being becoming more tethered to material conditions in older adulthood. These findings underscore the possibility that the income-wellbeing link may only roughly map on to disparities in material conditions of living. The second study investigates a potential reason for divergence between well-being indicators and income. Using a longitudinal case study of two types of bereavement events, I demonstrate that mental well-being can become decoupled from material conditions due to income differences in psychological reactivity to negative shocks. In the third paper, evidence from an experimental study indicates that certain arguments about the consequences of income for unhappiness can convince the public to increase support for income redistribution. Taken together, this work suggests that the well-being movement is a double-edged sword, making us more attuned to the sufferings of others, while simultaneously blurring our focus away from abject material suffering.


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Rauf, Tamkinat


Grusky, David
Torche, Florencia

Series Author(s)

Freese, Jeremy

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Stanford University

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