In this study, we analyse the effects of social class on life satisfaction. We develop a theoretical framework that shows how social class affects life satisfaction through five different pathways. Informed by this framework, we estimate the direct effects of class destination and class origin, the effect of own intergenerational class mobility, as well as the effects of others’ class position and mobility. To do so, we utilize European Social Survey waves 1 to 5 (2002–2010) and obtain information on life satisfaction as well as destination and origin class for about 80,000 respondents in 32 European countries. We find (i) class destination consistently and strongly structures life satisfaction across Europe, (ii) own class mobility has a significant impact on life satisfaction in Eastern Europe, as does (iii) the class mobility of others. The last finding points to the hitherto neglected importance of reference effects when considering the impact of social class on life satisfaction.


Kaiser, C. & Trinh, N.A. (2021). 'Positional, mobility and reference effects: How does social class affect life satisfaction in Europe?'. European Sociological Review. 37(5), 713-730.
Go to Document