The Local Ladder Effect: Social Status and Subjective Well-Being


Dozens of studies in different nations reveal that socioeconomic status only weakly predicts an individual’s subjective well-being (SWB). These effects suggest that although the pursuit of social status is a fundamental human motivation, achieving high status has little impact on one’s SWB. However, we propose that sociometric status – the respect and admiration one has in face-to-face groups (e.g., one’s friendship group or workplace) – has a stronger effect on SWB than does socioeconomic status. Using correlational, experimental, and longitudinal methodologies, four studies found consistent evidence for a “Local Ladder Effect”: sociometric status significantly predicted satisfaction with life and the experience of positive and negative emotions. Longitudinally, as sociometric status rises or falls, SWB rises or falls accordingly. Furthermore, these effects were driven by feelings of power and social acceptance. Overall, individuals’ sociometric status – their respect and admiration in local, face-to-face groups –matters more than their socioeconomic status for SWB.