Immigrants’ relative income and life satisfaction: comparison groups from a multi-generational perspective

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

Acta Sociologica


Jing Shen and Irena Kogan

Publication date


With a focus on the immigrant population, this study examines how the association between a relative income position and life satisfaction varies when the comparison group changes. Drawing data from Understanding Society in the UK between 2009 and 2015, this study first shows that after migration, income comparisons with the mainstream and co-ethnic groups in the host country matter more than that with the source-country population for one’s life satisfaction. Furthermore, the relevance of comparison groups to life satisfaction varies across immigrant generations. Income comparison with the source-country population is more relevant to life satisfaction of the 1st generation, whereas 1.5 and 2nd generations consider income comparisons within the host country more relevant. In particular, favourable income comparison with the mainstream group in the host country is the most relevant to life satisfaction of the 2nd-generation, followed by the 1.5-generation, and last by the 1st-generation immigrants.





Migration, Income Dynamics, Ethnic Groups, Well Being, Sociology and Social Psychology


Open Access; This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (; Online Early