IS HAPPINESS RELATIVE? A REGRESSION RESEARCH BASED ON 2013 CGSS DATA
China has experienced remarkable economic growth throughout the past three decades. Rapid increases in income and education levels have led to the emergence of a middle class. However, a highly affluent population subgroup, concentrated in certain regions, also continues to grow. Improvements in the absolute wealth of a sizable share of Chinese families coupled with long-standing income disparities with the wealthy upper class raise questions about how individuals in contemporary China assess their personal wellbeing. To chart a course for the future, it is important to understand whether happiness is more of the product of an individuals’ absolute accumulation of wealth or a favorable assessment of their own wealth relative to their peers. The present study addressed this question using the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS), a large nationally representative dataset. Using OLS regression, I tested the size and strength of the relationships between subjective ratings of happiness and individuals’ assessments of how their own economic standing compared to three benchmarks: individuals’ peers, their family’s socioeconomic situation while growing up, and the socioeconomic group to which the individuals expect to belong in the future. Results indicate that of the three types of comparisons, the strongest predictor of happiness is holding the view that one’s personal socioeconomic standing exceeds that of their peers.
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