The rags-to-riches story of income mobility and its impact on emotional well-being

Date created: 
Emotional well-being
Income mobility

Recent research has demonstrated that people believe they are more likely to climb the income ladder than they actually are. However, no one has explored the downstream psychological consequences of these unrealistically optimistic perceptions, particularly their impact on emotional well-being. Across four studies I explored the correlational and causal relationship between perceptions of one’s own income mobility and emotional well-being. In Studies 1 and 2, I measure and assess the relationship between perceptions of income mobility and emotional well-being. I found that most participants see themselves as having high income mobility, and these perceptions of upward mobility are related to higher levels of happiness. In Study 3, I randomly assigned participants to read an article depicting income mobility as high, moderate, or low. Participants led to believe income mobility is high reported higher happiness relative to those led to believe income mobility is low. Lastly, in Study 4, utilizing a more diverse and generalizable sample from a National Panel Survey, I replicated the findings of Study 3. In sum, the present research demonstrates that people tend to be optimistic about their own chances of climbing the income ladder, and this sustained optimism translates into positive downstream emotional consequences.

Document type: 
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Senior supervisor: 
Lara B. Aknin
Arts & Social Sciences:
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.