Life satisfaction: The role of domain-specific reference points

Sebastian Neumann-Böhme*, Arthur E. Attema, Werner B.F. Brouwer, Job van Exel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


In the evaluation of well-being, it is not only important what people have in absolute terms, but also how this compares to reference points in relative terms. We explore the relevance of relative comparisons by testing the effect of people's self-rated position on potential reference points for income and health on their subjective well-being. We used Multiple Discrepancies Theory as a framework to identify seven potentially relevant reference points for income and health. A representative sample (N = 550) of the Netherlands assessed their income and health relative to these reference points. In addition, we elicited monthly household income, health status (EQ-5D-5L), and subjective well-being (SWLS). In line with the literature, we found a negative convex relationship between subjective well-being and age and a positive relationship with being employed, income, and health. For income, subjective well-being was also associated with how current income compared to respondents' needs and progression over time, and for health especially with how current health compared to what they felt they deserved. Our findings suggest that income and health are important for subjective well-being both in absolute and relative terms. We found negative effects on life satisfaction if some of the domain specific reference points were not met.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2766-2779
Number of pages14
JournalHealth Economics (United Kingdom)
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the participants of the Lowlands Health Economic Study Group (LolaHESG) and International Health Economics Association (iHEA) conference 2019 in Basel for their feedback, as well as the two anonymous referees. The usual disclaimer applies.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Health Economics published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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