NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As the rich get richer and the poor fall further behind, levels of happiness and satisfaction drop, but only among people with modest and lower incomes, a new study shows.
The finding holds true for about 60 percent of Americans, according to research that will be published in the journal Psychological Science.
"Income disparity has grown a lot in the U.S., especially since the 1980s. With that, we've seen a marked drop in life satisfaction and happiness," said Shigehiro Oishi, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.
"In general, CEO salary increased tremendously, while that of the average workers hasn't that much," he said in an interview.
"I think you can take any occupation in the US and the disparity grew."
The researchers assessed the link between income disparity and unhappiness by analyzing data from more than 48,000 people who responded to the General Social Survey between the years of 1972 and 2008.
They compared their sense of how honest other Americans were with their income and a scientific measure of national income equality.
The researchers found that the bigger the disparity in the income gap, the less likely people are to view fellow Americans as fair or honest. This, in turn, leads to a degraded sense of general well-being.
"We originally thought economic factors might explain this all, but they don't," he said. "When people see that some people are really in advantageous and favorable conditions while many of us are not, lack of trust toward the system and toward others naturally emerges."
The study also found that economic inequality does not bother the wealthiest Americans. The richest 20 percent reported that income disparity didn't change their feelings of fairness, trust, or general well-being.
Oishi said the findings may support progressive tax reforms in which the rich pay more and the poor pay less.
"Certainly, any policies that try to reduce income inequality would seem to be good if we care about the average happiness of Americans," he said.