Higher income is associated with greater well-being, but do income gains and losses affect well-being differently? Loss aversion, whereby losses loom larger than gains, is typically examined in relation to decisions about anticipated outcomes.
Here, using subjective-well-being data from Germany (N = 28,723) and the United Kingdom (N = 20,570), we found that losses in income have a larger effect on well-being than equivalent income gains and that this effect is not explained by diminishing marginal benefits of income to well-being.
Our findings show that loss aversion applies to experienced losses, challenging suggestions that loss aversion is only an affective-forecasting error. By failing to account for loss aversion, longitudinal studies of the relationship between income and well-being may have overestimated the positive effect of income on well-being. Moreover, societal well-being might best be served by small and stable income increases, even if such stability impairs long-term income growth.
- loss aversion
- subjective well-being