Life satisfaction, income and personality

Eugenio Proto, Aldo Rustichini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


We use personality traits to better understand the relationship between income and life satisfaction. Personality traits mediate the effect of income on life satisfaction. The effect of neuroticism, which measures sensitivity to threat and punishment, is strong in both the British Household Panel Survey and the German Socioeconomic Panel. Neuroticism increases the usually observed concavity of the relationship: individuals with a higher neuroticism score enjoy extra income more than those with a lower score if they are poorer, and enjoy extra income less if they are richer. When the interaction between income and neuroticism is introduced, income does not have a significant effect on its own. To interpret the results, we present a simple model based on Prospect Theory, where we assume that: (i) life satisfaction is dependent on the gap between aspired and realized income, and this is modulated by neuroticism and (ii) income increases in aspirations with a slope less than unity, so that the gap between aspired and realized income increases with aspirations. From the estimation of this model we argue that poorer individuals tend to over-shoot in their aspirations, while the rich tend to under-shoot. The estimation of the model also shows a substantial effect of traits on income.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-32
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank several coauthors and colleagues for discussions on related research, especially Wiji Arulampalam, Sascha Becker, Gordon Brown, Dick Easterlin, Peter Hammond, Alessandro Iaria, Graham Loomes, Kyoo il Kim, Rocco Macchiavello, Anandi Mani, Fabien Postel-Vinay, Dani Rodrik, Jeremy Smith, Chris Woodruf and Fabian Waldinger. Proto thanks the ESRC (grant RES-074-27-0018); Rustichini thanks the NSF (grant SES-0924896) and ESRC (grant RES-062-23-1385).


  • Income
  • Life satisfaction
  • Neuroticism
  • Personality traits
  • Prospect theory

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