Determinants of life satisfaction among race groups in South Africa
Economic indicators, like gross domestic product per capita, are commonly used as indicators of welfare. However, they have a very limited and narrow scope, excluding many potentially important welfare determinants, such as health, relative income and religion – not surprising since they were not designed to fill this role. As a result, there is growing acceptance, and use of, subjective measures of well-being (called ‘happiness’ or ‘life satisfaction’, often used interchangeably) both worldwide and in South Africa. Happiness economics does not propose to replace income-based measures of well-being, but rather attempts to complement them with broader measures, which can be important in making policy decisions that optimise societal welfare. This paper tests for differences in subjective well-being between race groups in South Africa, and investigates the determinants of self-rated life satisfaction for each group. Using the 2008 National Income Dynamics Study data, descriptive methods (analysis of variance) and an ordered probit model are applied. Results indicate that reported life satisfaction differs substantially among race groups, with black South Africans being the least satisfied group despite changes since the advent of democracy in 1994. Higher levels of educational attainment increased satisfaction for the whole sample, and women (particularly black women) are generally less satisfied than men. As found in many other studies, unemployed people have lower levels of life satisfaction than the employed, even when controlling for income and relative income. The determinants of life satisfaction are also different for each race group: white South Africans attach greater importance to physical health, whereas employment status and absolute income matter greatly for black people. For coloured people and black people, positional status (as measured by relative income) is an important determinant of well-being, with religious involvement contributing significantly to the well-being of Indian people.
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