A new study of worldwide polling data suggests that a person’s income rank relative to their peers is linked to their experience of physical pain, with a lower income rank linked to a higher likelihood of experiencing pain. It is the first time such a relationship has been shown.
The study found the link to persist, to the same degree, irrespective of whether the person lives in a rich country or a poor country.
Income rank is the position of an individual’s absolute personal income amount in a list of those amounts ordered from lowest to highest. The higher the position in the list, the higher the income rank.
The study, authored by Dr Lucía Macchia, Lecturer in Psychology at City, University of London, also suggests that people in poor countries fare no better than those living in rich countries when it comes to the effect of the absolute amount of personal income they earn on the likelihood of them experiencing pain. This was an unexpected finding and requires further investigation, as the prediction was that those in poorer countries would be more strongly affected, assuming that an increase in absolute income would allow them to obtain more resources to support their wellbeing that are more readily available in rich countries.
Overall, the study findings suggest that an overriding factor affecting a person’s pain levels based on their personal income could be negative emotions related to their appraisal of their income ranking compared to their peers. Whether that be related to their perception of their own levels of deprivation relative to their peers (in keeping with Relative Deprivation Theory) or their standing in a society and a feeling of a lack of social mobility (Social Comparison theory).
In the study, analyses were made of data from the annual World Gallup Poll (GWP), across the years 2009-18, and consisting of responses from approximately 1.3 million adult survey respondents from across 146 countries. Respondents were asked what their total monthly household income was before taxes, which was divided by the number of people in their household to derive the respondent’s personal income amount. Respondents were also asked whether they experienced physical pain the day before being surveyed to which they could respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In the analyses, linear regression models were created from these data in addition to further ancillary information.
This study refers to pain as the feeling that people experience when their body hurts regardless of the presence of physical damage.
Physical pain is one of the main reasons people visit the accident and emergency room in the UK. Approximately nine million people live with chronic pain in the UK and musculoskeletal pain alone accounts for 30 per cent of the country’s medical consultations.
Physical pain has been increasing dramatically in the last decades, becoming a priority for global public health. Pain affects leisure and productivity at work, increases health care costs, and represents a major challenge for healthcare systems. Pain plays a key role in suicide and in drug and alcohol misuse. In light of these circumstances, understanding the context of pain is crucial to addressing its consequences.
Study author, Dr Lucía Macchia, said:
“This is the first study that shows that income rank and pain are linked around the world. It suggests that psychological factors related to the well-known phenomenon of social comparison may influence people’s physical pain.”
The study is published online in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Notes to Editors
To speak to Dr Lucía Macchia, contact Dr Shamim Quadir, Senior Communications Officer, School of Health & Psychological Sciences, City, University of London. Tel: +44(0) 207 040 8782 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read a copy of the embargoed manuscript for the study article (to be published 00.01 ET Monday 17 April, 2023):
‘Having less than others is physically painful: Income rank and pain around the world’ in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science
please request it from Dr Shamim Quadir, Senior Communications Officer, School of Health & Psychological Sciences.
City, University of London
- City, University of London is a global higher education institution committed to academic excellence, with a focus on business and the professions and an enviable central London location.
- City’s academic range is broadly-based with world-leading strengths in business; law; health sciences; mathematics; computer science; engineering; social sciences; and the arts including journalism and music.
- City has around 20,000 students (46% at postgraduate level) from more than 160 countries and staff from over 75 countries.
- In the last REF, City doubled the proportion of its total academic staff producing world-leading or internationally excellent research.
- More than 140,000 former students from over 180 countries are members of the City Alumni Network.
- The University’s history dates from 1894, with the foundation of the Northampton Institute on what is now the main part of City’s campus. In 1966, City was granted University status by Royal Charter and the Lord Mayor of London became its Chancellor. In September 2016, City joined the University of London and HRH the Princess Royal became City’s Chancellor.
Social Psychological and Personality Science
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Having less than others is physically painful: Income rank and pain around the world
Article Publication Date