Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Watts, Alison


This dissertation consists of three chapters that analyze how various economic and social factors impact an individual's attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Chapter 1 examines the effect of social ties and similarity on perception of safety, using nationally representative data from South Africa. Social ties are defined as weak and strong neighbor ties, to account for the strength of ties and their individual impact on feeling safe. Race, language, and ethnicity are used to measure individuals’ similarity in their neighborhood. Results suggest that neighbor ties, race similarity, and ethnicity similarity are associated with individual’s perception of safety, with strong ties and race having a greater effect on safety perceptions. Racial similarity has a positive effect on safety for the majority race groups, but a negative effect for the minority race groups. Little evidence is found on the role of language similarity on safety perceptions. Chapter 2 provides evidence from US survey data on both the magnitude and direction of income comparisons and its effect on well-being. Particularly, the study investigates how the well-being of an individual is impacted by the income of a group they consider as a benchmark. The study considers two measures of income comparisons: internal comparison to one's past financial status, and social comparison to other Americans. The results indicate that internal comparison is the most significant point of reference for individuals, and income comparisons are asymmetric. While the happiness of individuals experiencing a decline in financial status compared to their past self is negatively affected, individuals with a better or the same financial status do not experience a positive impact on happiness. Lastly, doing worse economically is associated with a lower quality of life and a higher demand for income redistribution. Chapter 3 investigates how intergenerational mobility affects beliefs about children's future prospects, using cross-country survey data in the United States. Specifically, I investigate the relationship between intergenerational mobility and the anticipated standard of living mobility of respondents’ children when they reach the same age as the respondents themselves. Education and occupational prestige are used to measure mobility, and there exists strong evidence linking upward mobility and optimism about the future. Nevertheless, the level of parental educational mobility matters, as findings suggest significantly stronger effects of intergenerational mobility on beliefs about children’s standard of living mobility for individuals with a bachelor’s degree. Immigrants are found to be more optimistic than US-born individuals about their children's standard of living mobility. Lastly, to assess people's perceptions in the General Social Survey (GSS) sample, I compare data on perception of mobility to recent data on actual intergenerational mobility, I find that people's perceptions are realistic.




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