Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 753–769

Leisure Satisfaction and Quality of Life in China, Japan, and South Korea: A Comparative Study Using AsiaBarometer 2006

Authors

  • Jiayin Liang
    • Department of Sociology and GerontologyMiami University
    • Scripps Gerontology CenterMiami University
  • J. Scott Brown
    • Department of Sociology and GerontologyMiami University
    • Scripps Gerontology CenterMiami University
Research Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10902-012-9353-3

Cite this article as:
Liang, J., Yamashita, T. & Scott Brown, J. J Happiness Stud (2013) 14: 753. doi:10.1007/s10902-012-9353-3

Abstract

Leisure satisfaction is positively associated with quality of life (QOL), more specifically, subjective QOL, which is often expressed as happiness. Compared to industrial nations in North America and Europe, however, significantly less is known about Asian nations. The purpose of this study is to examine the understudied areas of China, Japan and South Korea, all of which share cultural values and practices (e.g., Confucianism). Internationally representative 2006 AsiaBarometer data from Mainland China (n = 2,000), Japan (n = 1,003) and South Korea (n = 1,023) are employed to examine the concept of QOL, and the association between leisure satisfaction and QOL in these specific Asian populations. Results of confirmatory factor analysis demonstrate the validity of the QOL concept based on a series of satisfaction measures (i.e., leisure, income, health, family, spirituality, and friendship). Subsequently, generalized ordinal logistic regression was used to model QOL as a function of leisure satisfaction and covariates. Results show that leisure satisfaction is independently positively associated with QOL only in South Korea, although other satisfaction measures including income, health and spiritual satisfactions are consistently significant in all three nations. These findings may be useful for developing locally-sensitive policies and services to improve/maintain QOL in each nation. Possible explanations about the diverse relationships between leisure satisfaction and QOL are discussed in view of the different stage of societal development, common Confucian values, as well as each nation’s unique characteristics.

Keywords

Leisure satisfactionCross-cultural comparisonQuality of lifeEast Asia

1 Introduction

Life satisfaction is generally conceptualized as an individual’s sense of well-being that stems from satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the areas of life that are important to him/her (Ferrans 1996). In this study, we use quality of life (QOL) in the sense of subjective QOL, interchangeable with overall life satisfaction, or self-reported happiness (Furnham 1991). Leisure activity participation, perceived health, and socio-economic status, are known indicators of life satisfaction (Riddick and Stewart 1994). Leisure refers to use of free time for participating in physical, spiritual, social and solitary activities (Kelly 1983; Kleiber 1999). Iwasaki’s (2007) systematic literature review demonstrates that leisure-like activities function as a promoting factor for QOL across Asian, Middle-Eastern and Indigenous cultures. Five major mechanisms explain how leisure may facilitate life-quality-enhancement: (1) positive emotions and well-being, (2) positive identities and self-esteem, (3) harmonious social and cultural connections, (4) learning and human development, and (5) realizing and utilizing human strengths and resilience (Iwasaki). Leisure as a contributor to QOL has gained support in other empirical studies as well (Pearson 2007; Ateca-Amestoy et al. 2008).

However, differences regarding the association between leisure and QOL across Asian nations are not yet known arguably due to a lack of cross-cultural leisure theories and methodological challenges in international comparative studies. For instance, comparing two or more distinctive cultures virtually generates uncertain results due to considerable variability in the concepts of leisure and QOL, as well as other relevant factors. Focusing on nations that share cultural origins is one strategy to deal with such issues. This study employs nationally representative data from the three East Asian nations: China (mainland), Japan and South Korea (Korea hereafter), all of which belong to the Confucian culture zone (discussed below). Specifically, we examine the concept of QOL and detailed associations between leisure and QOL in these three nations.

The conceptual model developed by Ferrans (1996) suggests four domains of quality of life (i.e., QOL): health and functioning, psychological/spiritual, social and economic, and family domains. Leisure activities are generally subsumed under the domain of health and functioning, and constitute important elements of QOL. For example, greater quality time through leisure activities is related to less frequent depressed mood (Lawton et al. 1999). Besides health benefits, leisure may also promote QOL indirectly through strengthening an individual’s satisfaction with social life (e.g., family relationship, friendship). A recent study shows that leisure satisfaction is the best predictor for satisfaction with family life when accounting for family income, age, marital status, and family leisure involvement (Agate et al. 2009). In fact, leisure and recreation research has shifted its focus from objective definitions (e.g., frequency of leisure activity participation) toward subjective perceptions of leisure (e.g., satisfaction with leisure experience) in recent decades (Furnham 1991; Pearson 2007; Spiers and Walker 2009; Samdahl 1988). Considering both objective and subjective measures, empirical evidence has shown that leisure satisfaction is a strong predictor for one’s QOL (Lloyd and Auld 2002).

Although leisure satisfaction is well-known to be positively associated with QOL (Furnham 1991), considerably fewer studies have been done on leisure satisfaction in Asian nations than Western nations (Okulicz-Kozaryn 2011). Among the limited existing research, positive leisure experiences are found to be associated with fewer depressive symptoms after adjusting for demographics, physical health and social support in a national survey conducted in Taiwan (Luo 2011). Leisure satisfaction and QOL are also shown to be significantly influenced by one’s socio-economic status among Thai labors in Taiwan (Tseng et al. 2009). However, cross-cultural comparative studies on QOL have been confined to industrialized countries in European and American nations (Diener and Suh 2000). To date, the role of leisure satisfaction in the context of QOL in Asian populations is understudied. We assume that leisure is a contributor to QOL in Asian countries as in European/North American cultures, but how leisure is related to QOL might be different across cultures.

The literature about leisure and QOL suggests important covariates of interest, including demographics and socio-economic status. Indeed, a series of demographic and socio-economic characteristic such as race/ethnicity, age, gender, social class (e.g., education, income, occupation) and family structure (e.g., marital status, household members, and caregiver responsibility) are closely related to each other and are predictors of leisure activity patterns and leisure satisfaction (Spiers and Walker 2009; Agate et al. 2009; Fernandez-Ballesteros et al. 2001; Freysinger 1993). The association between age and leisure satisfaction can be either positive or negative (Paiva et al. 2009), which may depend on diverse perspectives rooted in each culture as well as economic conditions. With regard to gender, Western literature suggests that women are generally disadvantaged in terms of leisure because their time is often constrained by their socially-expected roles in the family, such as domestic management, child care and caregiving to aging parents (Henderson 1996; Rojek 2006). It should also be noted that religious practice may be considered as leisure activity (Kelly 1983); thus having a religious affiliation may influence an individual’s leisure satisfaction. Although significantly less is known about leisure and QOL in Asian nations, simply following the Western framework may be problematic for a study of Asian nation(s). For example, age and gender have little effect on leisure satisfaction (contradictory to the Western nations); while highly-educated, married, wealthier people and those having fewer children are more content with their leisure time (consistent with the Western nations) in Taiwan (Tsou and Liu 2001).

A relevant framework for leisure and QOL study is the tripartite life course framework. It is a perspective that describes how life in western nations is generally divided into three distinct periods: education, work, and retirement/leisure (Henretta 2003). These periods correspond with age-limited stages: youth, middle age, and old age. As a matter of fact, leisure in later life can be predicted by earlier experiences (Agahi et al. 2006; Atcheley 1993; Hendricks and Cutler 2003). Leisure pursuits can be beneficial to successful midlife transition and future aging (Luo 2011). Thereby, knowing more about current young and mid-aged Asian populations may inform important policy implications such as health promotion or social welfare programs (e.g., resource allocation based on their future needs) to promote QOL for the rapidly increasing older Asian populations.

Despite increasing demand in leisure satisfaction research for promoting QOL of Asian populations, international comparative analysis is often challenging due to substantial diversities across Asian nations. As such, in this study, we focus on China, Japan and Korea to conduct sensible cross-national comparisons. Kim (2007) indicates commonalities among China, Japan and Korea in five aspects: geographic, cultural, demographic, political, and economic characteristics. These three countries belong to the Confucian culture zone where individuals follow traditional social hierarchy (e.g., age), and in turn, they share similar cultural practices and social norms such as patriarchal family structure, tradition of ancestor worship, predominance of men over women, and filial piety (Kim 2007; Shu and Zhu 2009; Zhang et al. 2005).

Suggested by the existing literature about positive effects of leisure satisfaction on QOL and increasing attention to the understudied Asian populations, there is a need for cross-cultural study. Findings may provide important information not only for decision-making in future policy changes to promote QOL at a population-level, but also for further understanding the influence of culture on leisure satisfaction and QOL. Taken together, the research questions of this study are: how is leisure satisfaction associated with QOL (or happiness) in China, Japan and Korea? and what are the differences across these three countries?

2 Methods

2.1 Data

The data come from the AsiaBarometer Survey 2006, which recruited community-dwelling adults between 20 and 69 years old nationwide in seven Eastern Asian nations and regions, including (Mainland) China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam (Inoguchi and Fujii 2009). The AsiaBarometer Survey includes questions regarding demographic information, socio-economic characteristics, quality of life, perceptions toward societies (e.g., social virtues, governance, and globalization) and life styles. As stated earlier, only data from individuals living in (Mainland) China, Japan and Korea are included in this study. Although the AsiaBarometer survey has been conducted every year since 2003, participating countries and sampling strategies are not entirely consistent. Given the unavailability of sampling weights and the research purpose of this study, we decided to analyze the latest data that include China, Japan and Korea.

2.2 Sampling

The AsiaBarometer Survey was implemented annually between 2002 and 2007 as a repeated cross-sectional survey. The AsiaBarometer Survey employed multi-stage stratified random sampling and quota sampling (i.e., non-probability sampling targeting particular sub-populations such as age groups and gender), and face-to-face interviews were conducted in respondents’ native languages using the translated, structured questionnaires. Slightly different sampling strategies were used in each nation (or region) due to diverse administrative units, political boundaries and urban/rural population distributions. In general, the sampling procedure is as follows: (1) all municipalities are stratified (i.e., primary sampling units) according to the size of the population, and sampling points (e.g., city, village) are assigned; (2) within each stratum, sampling units are randomly chosen; and (3) a certain number of individuals (typically, 8–10 individuals) are systematically (e.g., every 10 households in the resident registration) selected in each sampling point. When resident registration records were not available, quota sampling was used to gather sufficient information for some sub-groups (e.g., age groups and gender) (Inoguchi and Fujii 2009). The final sample sizes in the 2006 module are 2,000 (China), 1,003 (Japan) and 1,023 (Korea). The detailed descriptions of sampling methods are recorded in the fieldwork reports available in the AsiaBarometer project website (https://www.asiabarometer.org/en/surveys/2006) and elsewhere (Tokuda et al. 2009).

3 Measures

3.1 Outcome

Happiness, which reflects QOL in this study, is recorded into three categories (1) not happy (either “Neither happy nor unhappy,” “not too happy” or “very unhappy”), (2) quite happy and (3) very happy. The original measure includes five response categories. However, less than 2 % of the respondents belonged to a certain response categories (e.g., 1.8 % of Japanese respondents reported being “Very unhappy”), and therefore, original response categories resulted in insufficient sample size for statistical analysis. Although treating it as a dichotomous measure (i.e., happy vs. not happy) was considered, the three-level measure is chosen because more detailed information about the degree of happiness is desirable to understand the association between QOL and specific satisfaction measures. In addition, the three-level measure has greater potential for possible practical applications such as intervention programs to improve QOL for individuals who are not happy and to maintain or even further facilitate those who are already happy. Thereby, the QOL measure with three response categories is most suitable in this study for empirical and conceptual reasons.

3.2 Predictors

3.2.1 Demographic Characteristics

Age (years), age-squared and number of household members are based on self-reports at the time when each respondent was interviewed. Other demographic characteristics include a series of dichotomous variables: female (vs. male), satisfactorily married (vs. unmarried), dissatisfactorily married (vs. unmarried),care needs in household (vs. no care needs) and religion (vs. no religion). The marital status and marital satisfaction measures are combined (unmarried is the reference group) to include unmarried respondents in the statistical analyses. Care needs in household refers to a respondent who has one or more household members in need of special care due to illness, old age or disability. Religion includes any religion that the respondents reportedly practice. Respondent’s nationality is measured by a set of mutually-exclusive dichotomous variables: Japan, Korea, and China (reference group).

3.2.2 Socio-Economic Characteristics

Household income and educational attainment are classified into three categories (1 = “low,” 2 = “mid,” and 3 = “high”) according to the household income distributions and education systems, respectively, in each country. Number of earners is the number of household member(s) who earn(s) an income. To include the respondents who were not employed at the time of survey, two dichotomous measures satisfactory employment (vs. unemployed) and dissatisfactory employment (vs. unemployed) are derived from the employment status and self-reported job satisfaction measure and are used in statistical analyses. Of note, our preliminary analysis results showed consistent findings even when a single job satisfaction measure, which excludes the respondents who were unemployed from analysis, was used.

3.2.3 Satisfaction Measures

A series of specific satisfaction measures (leisure, income, health, family, spiritual and friendshipsatisfaction) are each five-point Likert scales of self-reported satisfaction (1–5: Very dissatisfied–Very satisfied). Additionally, theoretically possible interaction terms, such as age and gender, marital status and gender, and care needs in household and gender (e.g., Henderson 1996), were examined in our preliminary analyses. None of these interaction terms was significant. Therefore, these interaction effects were excluded in the final statistical models.

3.3 QOL Measurement Validation

Given that the psychometric property of QOL, measured by self-reported happiness in this study, has been rarely examined in a comparative manner for Eastern Asian populations, exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) were employed to examine the underlying construct of QOL that consists of a series of satisfaction measures and to validate the happiness measure in our study, respectively (Brown 2006). First, an exploratory factor analysis with maximum likelihood estimation and oblique (promax) rotation, which allows latent factors to be correlated, was conducted using a series of satisfaction measures including leisure, job, income, health, family, spiritual and friendship satisfactions (Costello and Osborne 2005). According to the Kaiser-Guttman criterion (i.e., eigenvalue greater than 1 indicates a factor), one factor was retained and the factor loadings ranged from 0.49 to 0.71. Therefore, the results of EFA support a one-factor model (happiness). Also, the EFA findings without job satisfaction (to include the respondents who were unemployed in analysis) were consistent. Additionally, the Cronbach’s alpha for the seven items was 0.81, which indicates the set of measures has good internal consistency (i.e., reliability). SAS software 9.2 was used for all EFA.

Next, a confirmatory factor analysis with maximum likelihood estimation was used to model the theoretical domains (individual satisfaction measures) of QOL and their associations to each other based on the QOL conceptual framework of Ferrans (1996), and Tsou and Liu (2001). Our final CFA model took the correlations between job and income satisfaction, and leisure and spiritual satisfactions into account for conceptual reasons (see Fig. 1). The results showed a good fit (Chi-square (18) = 6.878, p < 0.001; TLI = 0.965; CFI = 0.982; RMSEA = 0.04). In general, CFI and TLI greater than 0.95 indicate a good fit and RMSEA less than 0.05 indicates reasonably parsimonious CFA models (Brown 2006). The standardized regression coefficients ranged from 0.70 (family satisfaction) to 0.51 (self-rated health and friendship satisfaction). Thus, the individual satisfaction indicators in this study are strongly related to a factor of QOL and are used in statistical analyses. AMOS software 17.0 was used for all CFA models (Arbuckle 2008).
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10902-012-9353-3/MediaObjects/10902_2012_9353_Fig1_HTML.gif
Fig. 1

Standardized regression weights in the confirmatory factor analysis. Notes: Maximum likelihood estimation method; QOL quality of life; δ1-7, ε1 and ζ1 represent error terms. All satisfaction measures are in the 5 point Likert scale: (5) Very satisfied; (4) somewhat satisfied; (3) neither; (2) somewhat dissatisfied; (1) very dissatisfied

3.4 Statistical Analysis

A descriptive summary was computed for each measure for all three countries together and each country, separately. A generalized ordinal logit model, or more specifically, partial proportional odds ordinal logistic regression was used to model the log-odds of happiness (i.e., QOL) as a function of demographic, socio-economic and satisfaction-related variables (Long and Freese 2006). We considered the ordinal logistic regression model given the nature of the outcome measure (Hosmer and Lemeshow 2004). However, our preliminary analysis demonstrated a violation of the proportional odds assumption in ordinal logistic regression. The partial proportional model relaxes the proportional odds assumption. Also, this approach allows a more parsimonious model specification than commonly used alternative methods such as multinomial logistic regression. All regression analyses were completed with the gologit2 command in STATA software version 12 (Williams 2006). More details about the gologit2 command and partial proportional odds model are described in Williams (2006). Given systematic missing cases (i.e., job satisfaction for those who were unemployed and marital satisfaction for the unmarried), we examined all models with and without job satisfaction and marital satisfaction measures for happiness and found the results to be consistent in our preliminary analyses. Therefore, our final analysis includes the respondents who were unemployed and unmarried.

4 Results

The characteristics of the 2006 AsiaBarometer survey respondents from China, Japan and Korea are shown in Table 1. The respondents reported a mean age of 42 years (SD = 13.3) and approximately three-fourths of them were married. More than half (55 %) of the respondents reported low tertile household income according to each country’s income distribution and were employed (66 %). Overall, about nearly half (42 %) of the respondents expressed being “not happy.” There were significant differences in terms of some characteristics among the three countries. The Japanese respondents were more likely to be older and satisfactorily married than Chinese or Koreans. The Chinese and Korean respondents were more likely to have care needs for their household members and be in the low tertile income group compared to the Japanese. A significantly greater percentage of the Korean respondents reported having a religious affiliation compared to Chinese and Japanese. There was a gradient in educational attainment across three countries, with Japanese having the highest educational attainment followed by Korean and Chinese.
Table 1

Descriptive summary of variables of interest by countries

 

All (N = 4,026)

China (N = 2,000)

Japan (N = 1,003)

Korea (N = 1,023)

Happiness

Very happy (%)

16.24

18.87

15.37

11.96

Quite happy (%)

41.69

39.04

44.31

44.31

Not happy (%)

42.06

42.09

40.32

43.73

Demographic factors

Age

42.07 (13.30)

40.77 (12.69)

44.71 (14.16)

42.02 (13.21)

Female (%)

49.60

49.25

49.95

49.95

Satisfactorily married (%)

55.14

57.20

59.62

46.73

Dissatisfactory married (%)

20.67

21.00

12.66

27.86

Not married (%)

23.77

21.30

27.12

25.32

Care needs in household (%)

10.68

11.80

8.67

10.46

Religious affiliation (%)

34.08

20.22

38.91

56.59

N of household members

3.59 (1.40)

3.68 (1.41)

3.41 (1.52)

3.59 (1.22)

Socio-economic factors

Household income

 High (%)

16.57

16.20

15.95

17.89

 Mid (%)

20.94

15.00

36.89

31.88

 Low (%)

55.22

68.30

22.13

47.61

Educational attainment

 High (%)

34.18

25.85

47.16

37.73

 Mid (%)

34.05

24.40

44.07

43.11

 Low (%)

31.59

49.75

8.18

19.06

N of earners

1.91 (0.98)

2.17 (0.96)

1.75 (1.02)

1.57 (0.84)

Satisfactory employment (%)

27.22

22.50

40.88

23.07

Dissatisfactory employment (%)

39.22

48.25

26.72

33.82

Unemployed (%)

32.71

28.40

30.91

42.91

Satisfaction measures

Leisure satisfaction

3.23 (0.96)

3.12 (0.93)

3.61 (0.93)

3.08 (0.93)

Income satisfaction

3.08 (0.92)

3.04 (0.89)

3.21 (1.00)

3.01 (0.89)

Health satisfaction

3.67 (0.97)

3.67 (0.98)

3.80 (0.95)

3.52 (0.94)

Family satisfaction

3.69 (0.86)

3.61 (0.92)

3.93 (0.74)

3.63 (0.80)

Spiritual satisfaction

3.39 (0.91)

3.33 (0.96)

3.63 (0.83)

3.25 (0.83)

Friendship satisfaction

3.85 (0.80)

3.80 (0.83)

4.05 (0.75)

3.77 (0.75)

Means (SD) for continuous variables and percentages for categorical variables

Some percentages do not add up to 100 % due to missing values

Scores in satisfaction measures range 5 (Very satisfied), 4 (Somewhat satisfied), 3 (Neither), 2 (Somewhat dissatisfied), 1 (Very dissatisfied)

Table 2a, b show the results of partial proportional odds ordinal logistic regressions for all of the countries together, and China, Japan and Korea, separately. With regard to the demographic characteristics, older age was associated with being less happy (about 11 % less likely for each year). However, given the statistical significance of the age-squared term, China and Japan showed different trends in age effects compared to Korea. Females were more likely to be happier than males in China and Korea, but there was no such gender difference in Japan. The individuals with dissatisfactory marriage were less likely to be happier compared to those with satisfactory marriage in all three countries. The effects of dissatisfactory marriage are exceptionally large. For instance, in Japan, the individuals with dissatisfactory marriage were less likely to be happier (0.26 odds) than those with satisfactory marriage. Likewise, the individuals who were single were less likely to be happier in all three countries. On a relevant note, negative effects of dissatisfactory marriage and being single were greater for “not happy versus quite happy” than “quite happy versus very happy” in China. Care needs in household (i.e., possible burden as a caregiver within a family) was significant only in China. The Chinese respondents with care needs in household had lower chance (almost 43 % lower) of being happier compared to those without such needs. Religion was significant only in Japan and Korea. Interestingly, the Japanese respondents who reported practicing religion were less likely to be happier (more than 72 % less likely) whereas the Korean respondents who practice religion were more likely to be happier (38 % more likely).
Table 2

Estimated odds ratios and standard errors from partial proportional odds ordinal logistic regression predicting happiness (a) All countries and China, (b) Japan and Korea

Variables

All countries (N = 3,878)a

China (N = 1,948)a

Not happy versus quite happy

Quite happy versus very happy

Not happy versus quite happy

Quite happy versus very happy

OR

SE

OR

SE

OR

SE

OR

SE

Demographic factors

Age

0.922

0.020***

Same

 

0.923

0.029**

Same

 

Age squared

1.001

0.001***

Same

 

1.001

0.000**

Same

 

Female

1.458

0.080***

N.S

 

1.268

0.097*

Same

 

Dissatisfactory married (vs. satisfactorily married)

0.410

0.097***

Same

 

0.421

0.136***

0.644

0.201*

Not married (vs. satisfactorily married)

0.314

0.115***

0.423

0.140***

0.392

0.162***

0.557

0.190**

N of household members

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Care needs in household

0.777

0.113*

Same

 

0.698

0.154*

Same

 

Religion

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Socio-economic factors

Mid household income (vs. high household income)

N.S

 

0.706

0.133*

N.S

 

Same

 

Low household income (vs. high household income)

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

N of bread earners in household

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Mid educational attainment (vs. high educational attainment)

0.831

0.084*

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Low educational attainment (vs. high educational attainment)

0.655

0.111***

N.S

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Dissatisfactory employment (vs. satisfactory employment)

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Unemployed (vs. satisfactory employment)

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Satisfaction measures

Leisure satisfaction

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Income satisfaction

1.577

0.050***

1.207

0.058**

1.578

0.073***

1.187

0.079**

Health satisfaction

1.261

0.040***

Same

 

1.167

0.060*

1.399

0.076***

Family satisfaction

1.580

0.051***

Same

 

1.749

0.065***

Same

 

Spiritual satisfaction

1.435

0.049***

Same

 

1.181

0.064**

Same

 

Friendship satisfaction

1.338

0.048***

Same

 

1.414

0.064***

Same

 

Country

Japan (vs. China)

0.543

0.098*

Same

 

 

 

Korea (vs. China)

N.S

 

0.684

0.133**

 

 

Variables

Japan (N = 955)a

Korea (N = 975)a

Not happy versus quite happy

Quite happy versus very happy

Not happy versus quite happy

Quite happy versus very happy

OR

SE

OR

SE

OR

SE

OR

SE

Demographic factors

Age

0.897

0.043*

Same

 

0.896

0.047*

Same

 

Age squared

1.001

0.000*

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Female

N.S

 

Same

 

1.652

0.164**

Same

 

Dissatisfactory married (vs. satisfactorily married)

0.256

0.264***

Same

 

0.400

0.190***

Same

 

Not married (vs. satisfactorily married)

0.285

0.205***

Same

 

0.201

0.275***

Same

 

N of household members

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Care needs in household

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Religion

N.S

 

0.577

0.209**

1.383

0.145*

Same

 

Socio-economic factors

Mid household income (vs. high household income)

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Low household income (vs. high household income)

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

N of bread earners in household

0.827

0.093*

Same

 

N.S

 

0.709

0.168*

Mid educational attainment (vs. high educational attainment)

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Low educational attainment (vs. high educational attainment)

0.487

0.299*

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Dissatisfactory employment (vs. satisfactory employment)

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

2.101

0.286*

Unemployed (vs. satisfactory employment)

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Satisfaction measures

Leisure satisfaction

N.S

   

1.248

0.095*

Same

 

Income satisfaction

1.364

0.083***

Same

 

1.571

0.105***

Same

 

Health satisfaction

1.255

0.089*

Same

 

1.278

0.088**

Same

 

Family satisfaction

1.750

0.144***

N.S

 

N.S

 

Same

 

Spiritual satisfaction

2.106

0.120***

Same

 

1.649

0.106***

Same

 

Friendship satisfaction

1.367

0.106**

Same

 

N.S

 

Same

 

N.S not significant at alpha = 0.05, OR odds ratio, SE standard error, Same estimated OR and SE are equal across categories of happiness measure (the proportional odds assumption met)

p < 0.05; ** p < 0.01; *** p < 0.001

aAfter excluding missing values

The scale (5 = very happy; 4 = quite happy; 3 = neither; 2 = not too happy; 1 = very unhappy) was re-grouped to 3 = very happy; 2 = quite happy; 1 = not happy (3, 2 and 1 in the original scale). “very happy” is the reference group

With regard to socio-economic characteristics, income was not associated with happiness in any individual country, although those with mid-household income had lower chance (0.71 odds) of being happier than those with high household income. Education was not statistically significant in China or Korea, but individuals with low educational attainment were less likely to be happier (0.66 odds) in Japan. Also, one unit increase in the number of bread earners in a household was associated with being less happy in Japan and Korea (20 and 40 % less likely in Japan and Korea, respectively). Interestingly, the Korean respondents with dissatisfactory employment were more likely to be happier (2.1 odds) than those with satisfactory employment.

In terms of individual satisfaction measures, all satisfaction measures except leisure satisfaction were positively associated with being happier in China and Japan. At the same time, leisure, income, health and spiritual satisfaction were positively associated with being happier whereas family and friendship satisfaction were not statistically significant in Korea. On a related note, effects of family satisfaction in Japan, and effects of income and health satisfaction in China were not consistent across different levels of happiness (i.e., from being not happy to quite happy, and from being quite happy to very happy). Overall, the directions and magnitudes of individual satisfaction items are mostly consistent in China and Japan. Still, the findings in the model of all three countries combined should be viewed with caution given the diverse effects of predictors on QOL in each country modeled separately.

5 Discussion

This study examined the association between leisure satisfaction and QOL in China, Japan and Korea using nationally representative AsiaBarometer data. The validity of the QOL measure consisting of a series of satisfaction measures was confirmed with the CFA. The results of partial proportional odds ordinal logistic regressions suggested that leisure satisfaction was not statistically significantly associated with QOL after adjusting for demographic, socio-economic and other satisfaction measures in China and Japan. However, leisure satisfaction was independently associated with QOL in Korea. Leisure satisfaction seems to play a different role in Korea compared to the other two nations. As others have noted, satisfaction with leisure decreased among the Koreans between 1981 and 2001 (Shin and Rutkowski 2003). To this extent, although specific mechanisms need further investigation, leisure satisfaction is an important domain for designing social policies and service programs in order to improve QOL in Korea. Also, family and friendship satisfaction in Korea were not statistically significant, unlike in China and Japan. Despite the fact that China, Japan and Korea belong to the Confucian culture zone, in which family and collectivist values are often emphasized, treating these three nations together in a leisure satisfaction and QOL study can be problematic, and in turn, promoting QOL in each nation requires a locally-sensitive approach.

A possible reason why the association between leisure satisfaction and QOL significantly varies across China, Japan and Korea may be the differences in the way QOL is socially perceived in each country. Depending on the developmental stage of a nation, QOL may be generally perceived more as driven by economic (i.e., income, job) satisfaction compared to other satisfaction such as leisure and family satisfaction (Tsou and Liu 2001). However, as income was classified into tertiles in this study, such a hypothesis is limited within the relative comparison in each country (Shu and Zhu 2009). According to the World Bank (2011), the GDP per capita for China, Japan and Korea were $2,069; $34,148; and $19,707 (all in the current U.S. dollars as of September, 2011) in 2006, respectively. Clearly, the direct comparisons in absolute terms are not possible. In other words, given that each country is in a different stage of economic development, the relationship between actual income and income satisfaction is likely to be different across nations. For instance, we found that Japanese were less likely to be happy than Chinese and Koreans. Although the cross-sectional data used in this study do not allow us to investigate a causal relationship, any study focusing on the QOL in Asian nations requires a careful consideration of the state of the specific society.

However, some argue that non-economic indicators are influential on QOL. Ateca-Amstoy et al. (2008) hypothesize that caregiving responsibility may negatively impact on QOL through less leisure satisfaction due to time constraints, while having a partner and/or social network provides positive impacts. In this study, care needs in household, which indicates caregiving responsibility, was negatively associated with QOL in China, but not in Japan or Korea. Also, the number of earners in the household was negatively associated with QOL in Japan and Korea. While these three nations belong to the Confucian culture zone, possible complex interactions between economic conditions, cultural practices (e.g., familial obligation of caring for older family members, or traditional gender role), and social networks appear to play a crucial role (Koyano 1996; Zhang et al. 2005). Indeed, Inoguchi et al. (2005) argue that economic well-being is a means of achieving culturally-valued, non-materialistic goals such as inner-family harmony and social respect.

This notion of economic, cultural and social interactions is further supported by the finding of non-significant impact of family and friendship satisfaction on QOL in Korea after adjusting demographic and socio-economic factors. Given the finding that married individuals in general and those with satisfactory marriage are more likely to have higher QOL, a question of what defines leisure and QOL needs to be re-conceptualized in a more culturally-appropriate manner. Presumably, family defined by marriage may be the most important social network unit, and indeed, having a family is considered a “requirement” to meet social expectations as well as traditional familial obligations in these nations (Tsuya et al. 2004). More detailed analysis of factors influencing social networks, particularly country-specific characteristics such as the One-Child Policy in China in view of leisure satisfaction and QOL is warranted in future study. Accordingly, in China, Japan and Korea, marital status and marital quality can be a part of the “leisure” components, especially in the sense that leisure can be a source of social interaction (Kelly 1983). Family and friends may provide a social context for leisure experience. Leisure experienced with family members can contribute to family satisfaction by facilitating family solidarity and enhancing their relationships; leisure satisfaction for a married couple may be related to marital satisfaction (Agate et al. 2009). These possible interactions among leisure, family and marital satisfaction must be considered. Accordingly, the mechanisms through which leisure satisfaction contributes to QOL need further investigation.

Apart from family and social network as possible contexts for leisure experience, better understanding the role of gender will provide important insights to decision-making in policy, especially in some Asian nations where male-dominant societies remain. Traditionally, the role of men is limited to “bread-winner”, while women exclusively take charge of household chores and care for children and aging parents. In this study, being female and dissatisfactorily employed are positively associated with QOL among the Korean respondents. Although an investigation of specific mechanisms is beyond the scope of this study, some relevant statistics are of note here. China and Japan have relatively greater gender equality than Korea, as shown in the Global Gender Gap Index 2006, with China 63rd, Japan 80th, and Korea 92nd (Hausmann et al. 2010). Also, female labor participation rate in China (69 %) is considerably higher than the other two nations (Japan 48 %, Korea 50 %) (Hausmann et al. 2010). There appears to be complex interactions between gender, cultural practice (e.g., caregiving responsibility for women) and labor participation in view of QOL determinants.

5.1 Limitations

There are several limitations in this study. First, the cross-sectional data used in this study are not sufficient for empirical causal analysis. As such, discussions regarding how each satisfaction indicator interacts with other individual satisfaction measures or overall life satisfaction (i.e., QOL) are limited within the theoretical and conceptual level. Building upon our measurement validation and empirical cross-sectional analysis, a future study should employ longitudinal data for investigating detailed relationships between satisfaction indicators and QOL using structural equation modeling. Second, the findings in this study are only based on the three Eastern Asian nations: China, Japan and Korea. While focusing on a limited number of countries with many common aspects is a sensible approach in an initial stage of international comparative study, expanding the areas of inquiry is necessary to better understand leisure satisfaction and QOL. In addition, a comparative analysis between Asian and Western nations may clarify similarities/differences in the concept of leisure.

Third, possibly important variables for analyzing the relationship between leisure and QOL were not available. Specifically, objective measures of leisure activities such as types and frequency of leisure activities may have provided more insights in analysis. Also, more detailed information on health conditions and regional differences (e.g., internationally comparable urban/rural divide) should be added to future data collections (Berry and Okulicz-Kozaryn 2011, 2009). Fourth, AsiaBarometer data do not provide sampling weights, and therefore, while the statistical models in this study are useful to understand the complex relationships among QOL, leisure satisfaction and other covariates, the estimated regression coefficients should be interpreted with some cautions (DeMaris 2004; Heeringa et al. 2010). Finally, potential confounding factors are difficult to identify due to tremendous diversity across the three study areas in spite of the fact that any international comparison may face such issues. We framed the study using a conceptual model, existing literature and measurement validation (i.e., CFA). Detailed analysis of individual countries in terms of confounding factors between leisure and QOL is desirable along with a study focusing on larger geographic areas.

5.2 Conclusion

In conclusion, this study analyzed internationally representative data from China, Japan and Korea, and found that leisure satisfaction was independently associated with QOL only in Korea. The findings regarding social network-related factors including marital status, marital satisfaction, caregiving responsibility, family satisfaction and friendship satisfaction are useful insights for decision-making in public policy and resource allocation to promote individuals’ QOL in these nations. Arguably, public policy and/or services addressing issues with lack of social network for particular populations such as unmarried individuals and those with care needs in their households have great potential to improve QOL. Additionally, the identified between-county differences (e.g., care needs in household in China, number of bread-winners in Japan and Korea) provide a convincing reason for both theoretically and methodologically careful consideration of cultural background and social change in future QOL study. Given the rapidly aging population in Asian nations, advancing leisure and QOL research will inform policy decisions for well-being of individuals over the life course and in turn, well-being of societies.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012