BY: T. Franklin Murphy | August 3, 2021
Relative deprivation is the perception of being worse off than the other people. Feelings of deprivation hurt happiness and wellbeing, leading to frustration and disappointment.
The deprivation is theorized to emerge from the comparison and not from the original lack (absolute deprivation). Our car is just fine until we see the new car a colleague is driving. The other person's new car sparks the feelings of lack (and jealousy).
Relative Deprivation is feelings of deprivation from comparing ourselves with other people.
The concept of relative deprivation is credited to sociologist Samuel Stouffer, who developed the theory while studying social psychology during World War II. Stouffer discovered that soldiers measured their success not against the standards set by the military but from comparison with other soldiers in their units.
In one of the first formal definitions of the relative deprivation, Walter Runciman listed four preconditions of relative deprivation (of object X by person A):
"People experience disadvantage comparatively, not objectively. If it leads to anger and hopelessness, relative deprivation damages community and well-being."
Smith & Huo (2014)
Individual Relative Deprivation vs. Group Relative Deprivation
Individual relative deprivation is the comparison of our individual situation against that of an individual other. Often this is within group comparisons. This has also been referred to has egotistic relative deprivation.
Group relative deprivation is comparison of the group from which we belong against other groups. This has also been referred to as fraternal relative deprivation (2014).
A Few Words from Flourishing Life Society
We compare. We learn from observations. Often our observations of others can ignite goals, motivate action, and create a better life. The down side of comparison is the sense of deprivation when objectively we are not destitute. Often our comparing brain instead of motivating action invites sorrow. We long for what we don't have and overlook the bountiful blessings surrounding us.
Relative deprivation is a condition we treat with practices of gratitude. We still fight group injustices, identify goals, and chase dreams. However, we protect against unnecessary disappointments by cherishing the gifts that gracefully bless our lives.
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Smith, H., & Huo, Y. (2014). Relative Deprivation. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1(1), 231-238.