Envy in the process of development: Implications for Social Relations and Conflict


  • Boris Gershman




Envy, inequality, culture, conflict


This article examines envy as an important cultural link between inequality, institutions, development, and conflict. It argues that envy can be either a source of strife and stagnation or an engine for peaceful competition and growth. The fundamental conditions that activate the constructive side of envy and shut down its destructive side are access to productive investment opportunities, equality, security of property rights, and mild social comparisons. The dominant role of envy in society gives rise to a set of related cultural norms and beliefs that affect economic performance and social relations. While constructive envy is manifested in emulation or even envy-provocation -standard features of a consumer society- destructive envy produces a fear-of-envy culture that hampers economic incentives and creates an environment of suspicion and conflict.


Ashforth, A. 2005. Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Blattman, C. and E. Miguel. 2010. “Civil War.” Journal of Economic Literature. Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 3-57.

Clark, A.E. and C. Senik. 2010. “Who Compares to Whom? The Anatomy of Income Comparisons in Europe.” Economic Journal. Vol. 120, pp. 573-594.

Clark, A.E., C. Senik, and K. Yamada. 2013. “The Joneses in Japan: Income Comparisons and Financial Satisfaction.” Working Paper: Paris School of Economics.

Clark, A.E., P. Frijters, and M. Shields. 2008. “Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles.” Journal of Economic Literature. Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 95-144.

Cuddy, A.J., S.T. Fiske, and P. Glick. 2007. “The BIAS Map: Behaviors From Intergroup Affect and Stereotypes.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 92, No. 4, pp. 631-648.

de Vidas, A.A. 2007. “The Symbolic and Ethnic Aspects of Envy Among a Teneek Community (Mexico).” Journal of Anthropological Research. Vol. 63, No. 2, pp. 215-237.

Diamond, J. 2012. The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? New York: Viking.

Dow, J. 1981. “The Image of Limited Production: Envy and the Domestic Mode of Production in Peasant Society.” Human Organization. Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 360-363.

Elster, J. 1991. “Envy in Social Life,” pp. 49-82 in R.J. Zeckhauser, ed. Strategy and Choice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fafchamps, M. and F. Shilpi. 2008 “Subjective Welfare, Isolation, and Relative Consumption.” Journal of Development Economics. Vol. 86, No. 1, pp. 43-60.

Foster, G. 1979. Tzintzuntzan: Mexican Peasants in a Changing World. New York: Elsevier.

Frank, R.H. 1985. “The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods.” American Economic Review. Vol. 75, No. 1, pp. 101-116.

Frank, R.H. and O. Heffetz. 2011. “Preferences for Status: Evidence and Economic Implications,” chapter 3 in J. Benhabib, A. Bisin, and M. Jackson, eds. Handbook of Social Economics. New York: Elsevier.

Gershman, B. 2012. “The Two Sides of Envy.” Working Paper. Department of Economics. American University.

Gershman, B. 2013. “The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief.” Working Paper. Department of Economics. American University.

Ghosh, A. 1983. “The Relations of Envy in an Egyptian Village.” Ethnology. Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 211-223.

Golooba-Mutebi, F. 2005. “Witchcraft, Social Cohesion and Participation in a South African Village.” Development and Change. Vol. 36, No. 5, pp. 937-958.

Knight, J., L. Song, and R. Gunatilaka. 2009. “Subjective Well-Being and Its Determinants in Rural China.” China Economic Review. Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 635-649.

Madsen, W. 1966. “Anxiety and Witchcraft in Mexican-American Acculturation.” Anthropological Quarterly. Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 110-127.

Matt, S.J. 2003. Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890-1930. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Miguel, E. 2005. “Poverty and Witch Killing.” Review of Economic Studies. Vol. 72, No. 4, pp. 1153-1172.

Mui, V.-L. 1995. “The Economics of Envy.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 311-336.

Nash, J. 1970. In the Eyes of the Ancestors: Belief and Behavior in a Maya Community. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Nunn, N. 2012. “Culture and the Historical Process.” Economic History of Developing Regions. Vol. 27, pp. S108-S126.

Park, Y. 2010. “The Second Paycheck to Keep Up With the Joneses: Relative Income Concerns and Labor Market Decisions of Married Women.” Eastern Economic Journal. Vol. 36, pp. 255-276.

Pérez-Asenjo, E. 2011. “If Happiness is Relative, Against Whom Do We Compare Ourselves? Implications for Labour Supply.” Journal of Population Economics. Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 1411-1442.

Richerson, P.J. and R. Boyd. 2005. Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Schoeck, H. 1969. Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World.

Schor, J.B. 1991. The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. New York: Basic Books.

ter Haar, Gerrie, ed. 2007. Imagining Evil: Witchcraft Beliefs and Accusations in Contemprorary Africa. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Inc.

Wolf, E.R. 1955. “Types of Latin American Peasantry: A Preliminary Discussion.” American Anthropologist. Vol. 57, No. 3 (Part 1), pp. 452-471.

Zizzo, D.J. 2003. “Money Burning and Rank Egalitarianism with Random Dictators.” Economics Letters. Vol. 81, No. 2, pp. 263-266.

Zizzo, D.J. 2008. “The Cognitive and Behavioral Economics of Envy,” pp. 190-210 in R.H. Smith, ed. Envy: Theory and Research. New York: Oxford University Press.




How to Cite

Gershman, B. (2013). Envy in the process of development: Implications for Social Relations and Conflict. The Economics of Peace and Security Journal, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.15355/epsj.8.2.13




Similar Articles

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.