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Title: Four essays on applied and methodological issues in the study of subjective life satisfaction
Author: Kaiser, Caspar
ISNI:       0000 0005 0291 8517
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis is comprised of four empirical papers. Paper 1, entitled "People do not adapt. New analyses of the dynamic effects of own and reference income", uses yearly GSOEP and UKHLS data to show that there is no significant adaptation to the effects of own and reference income on life satisfaction. The paper gives an in-depth explanation of why almost all previous studies found adaptation to income and explores the implications of this finding for the estimation of equivalence scales. Paper 2 (with Nhat An Trinh), entitled "Positional, mobility and reference effects: How does social class affect life satisfaction in Europe?", assesses the effects of social class on life satisfaction. Using ESS data, the paper gives an account of the separate effects of class position, intergenerational class mobility, and reference effects of social class on life satisfaction. The paper also gives an extended discussion of the assumptions underlying Sobel's (1981) influential 'diagonal reference model', which is often used in seeking to separate the effects of class destination and origin from those of class mobility. Paper 3 (with Maarten Vendrik), entitled "How threatening are transformations of happiness scales to subjective wellbeing research?", investigates the possibility and plausibility of reversing the signs of estimated effects of explanatory variables on happiness and life satisfaction by means of positive monotonic transformations of the response scale. The paper responds to previous papers that purport to show that such reversals are possible and plausible, which would undermine the validity of most subjective wellbeing research. Fortunately for this literature, we show that such reversals are in most cases either impossible or highly implausible. Paper 4, entitled "Memories as anchors: Theoretical reflections and empirical analyses on the intrapersonal comparability of wellbeing reports", explores the consequences of explanatory variables affecting how respondents report their wellbeing. The paper first shows that such scale-shift effects are to be expected and subsequently analyses the biases that result from them. The paper then proposes a method based on recollections of past wellbeing to correct for intrapersonal scale shifts. The proposed method is then applied to BHPS data, showing that unemployment and bereavement are likely to be associated with strong scale-shift effects.
Supervisor: Vendrik, Maarten ; Nolan, Brian Sponsor: Nuffield College ; Department of Social Policy and Intervention ; University of Oxford
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available