The relationship between smartphone use and subjective well-being in rural China

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Due to the popularization of the Internet in rural China, mobile Internet use has become an essential part of rural residents’ lives and work. No studies, however, have investigated the potential effect of smartphone use on quality of life among rural residents in China. This study thus applies ordinary least squared, conditional quantile and instrumental variable techniques to survey data for 493 rural Chinese households to assess the impact of smartphone use (SU) on their subjective well-being (SWB). The results reveal an association between SU and increases in both life satisfaction and happiness that remains even after we adjust for possible endogeneity. The analysis also indicates that SU intensity is associated with lower levels of both SWB measures, especially when it exceeds 3 h per day. Quantile estimates further indicate that in both participation and intensity, SU has a much greater impact on SWB at the median level of the SWB distribution. Our multiple mediation results show that the positive SU–SWB linkage is partially mediated by both farm income and off-farm income. This may suggest that the local government should invest in Internet infrastructure to promote agricultural activities and develop specific rural services to boost farm income via better access to information of agricultural production and market networks. Mobile information and communication technologies can also provide more opportunities for rural entrepreneurship and innovation, in particular by motivating young farmers to actively engage in rural e-business ventures which can raise off-farm income.

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Data availability

The datasets during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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Peng Nie would like to acknowledge the financial support provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71804142) and the Start-Up Fund for Young Talent Support Plan (Grant No. 7121182501). Wanglin Ma gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Faculty of Agribusiness and Commerce at Lincoln University (Seed Fund Project INT 5056). We would like to thank the Editor, J. Christopher Westland and the Associate Editor, Seongmin Jeon and three anonymous referees for valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Correspondence to Peng Nie.

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See Table 10.

Table 10 OLS estimates for smartphone use and SWB

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Nie, P., Ma, W. & Sousa-Poza, A. The relationship between smartphone use and subjective well-being in rural China. Electron Commer Res (2020).

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  • Smartphone use
  • Life satisfaction
  • Happiness
  • Rural China

JEL Classification

  • I31
  • J30
  • J33
  • O33