Relative Deprivation and Hey and Lambert’s Motivation

Mixed Methods Evidence from Rio de Janeiro


  • Lucio Esposito University of East Anglia
  • Sunil Mitra Kumar King’s College London
  • Adrián Villaseñor University of York
  • Roney Fraga Souza Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso


relative deprivation, upward comparisons, inequality, education


Hey and Lambert (1980) provided an interpretation of indices of relative deprivation in terms of interpersonal comparisons: the indices would quantify harmful feelings of frustration, inadequacy, and inferiority arising from looking upward to better-off others. A growing body of literature has followed this interpretation in quantitative studies which indeed typically reveal a negative association between relative deprivation and key social outcomes such as happiness, health, and education. Yet, evidence able to directly link a negative coefficient of relative deprivation to the mechanisms deflating and harmful for the self, which underlie Hey and Lambert’s interpretation, is currently lacking. We fill this gap by conducting a mixed-method study. Using data from three waves of Brazilian high-stake secondary education exams for the state of Rio de Janeiro (N = 245; 555), we first analyse exam scores in econometric models where absolute income and relative deprivation are jointly employed as explanatory  variables.  Next, we interpret and expand upon our quantitative results using primary data collected via semi-structured  interviews and focus group discussions with 30 local secondary school teachers. In conformity with Hey and Lambert’s  interpretation, we find robust negative coefficients for relative deprivation, which the teachers explained by reporting the detrimental effects of lower  socioeconomic status and upward comparisons on pupils’ self-esteem, motivation, and aspirations.


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How to Cite

Esposito, L., Kumar, S. M., Villaseñor, A., & Souza, R. F. (2024). Relative Deprivation and Hey and Lambert’s Motivation: Mixed Methods Evidence from Rio de Janeiro. Journal of Income Distribution®, 32(3-4). Retrieved from