Is health valued in relative or absolute terms?

Agnar Hafliði Andrésson, Tinna Laufey Ásgeirsdóttir


Previous studies indicate that individuals care less about relative health status than relative status of other goods. Health, however, is a multidimensional desideratum and the relative characteristics of different dimensions of health have not been studied before. Respondents to a questionnaire had to choose between two different types of social situations: one, where their health was better than the rest of the society’s, and the other, where their health was better than in the previous situation, but everyone else’s health was even better than that, so that their relative standing was worse. Hypothesis tests were used to examine to what extent individuals care about different health dimensions based on their relative status compared to others in the society. The relationship between demographic and health status determinants, and the relative status regarding different dimensions of health was examined using logit regression analysis. The results indicate that few dimensions of health have different relative qualities over others, aside from body weight and infant mortality, which were statistically significantly different. In general, health seems to be considered in absolute terms and individuals do not choose relatively stronger health status at the expense of absolute health.


Health; relative standing; well being.

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