Reference groups and complaints about inequality

  • Marek Kośny Wroclaw University of Economics, Poland
Keywords: relative deprivation, inequality, reference groups


Although influence of reference population on assessment of individual position is well recognized on the ground of sociology, its impact is rarely taken into account in economic analysis of inequality. Few analyses that are concerned with issue of reference groups in the context of inequality and relative deprivation measurement deal, however, with single reference group. The aim of the paper is consideration on how concept of reference populations of different kind (reference groups and reference categories) may be applied to assessment of aggregated complaint that results from inequality in income (wealth) distribution.

DOI: 10.2478/v10241-012-0004-8


Amiel, Y. (1999). The Measurement of Income Inequality: The Subjective Approach, in: Jacques Silber (ed.), Handbook of Income Inequality Measurement. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 227-241.

Atkinson, A. B. (1970). On the Measurement of Inequality, Journal of Economic Theory. 2: 24463.

Belk, R. W. (1985). Materialism: Trait Aspects of Living in the Material World, Journal of Consumer Research. 12: 265-280.

Cowell, F. A. (2000). Measurement of Inequality, in: Anthony B. Atkinson and Francois Bourguignon (eds.), Handbook of Income Distribution, vol. 1. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science: 87–166.

Cowell, F. A., Ebert, U. (2004). Complaints and inequality, Social Choice and Welfare. 23: 71–89.

Devoogh, K. (2003). Measuring Inequality by Counting ‘Complaints’: Theory and Empirics, Economics and Philosophy. 19: 241-263.

Dawson, M. E., Chatman E. A. (2001). Reference Group Theory with Implications for Information Studies: a Theoretical Essay, Information Research. 6(3) available at:

Grusky, D., Kanbur, G. (2005). Conceptual Ferment in Poverty and Inequality Measurement: The View from Economics and Sociology, in: David Grusky and Ravi Kanbur (eds.), Poverty And Inequality: Essays By Amartya Sen, Martha C. Nussbaum, François Bourguignon, William J. Wilson, Douglas S. Massey, And Martha A. Fineman. Stanford: Stanford University Press (forthcoming). available at:

Lambert, P. J. (2001). The distribution and redistribution of income. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Merton, R. K. (1957). Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: The Free Press. Polish edition: Warszawa: PWN 2002.

Pedersen, A.W. (2004). Inequality as Relative Deprivation. A Sociological Approach to Inequality Measurement, Acta Sociologica. 47(1): 31-49.

Podder, N. (1996). Relative Deprivation, Envy and Economic Inequality, Kyklos. 49: 353-376.

Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Runciman, W. G. (1966). Relative Deprivation and Social Justice: A Study of Attitudes to Social Inequality in Twentieth-Century England. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Sen, A. K. (1973). On Economic Inequality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Temkin, L. S. (1986). Inequality, Philosophy and Public Affairs. 15: 99-121.

Temkin, L. S. (1993). Inequality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Yitzhaki, S. (1998). More than a Dozen Alternative Ways of Spelling Gini, Research on Economic Inequality. 8: 13-30.

Zaleski, Z. (2003). Psychologia własności i prywatności (Psychology of Property and Privacy). Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Akademickie Żak (in Polish).