Social Indicators Research

, Volume 76, Issue 3, pp 499–524 | Cite as

Does Wealth Enhance Life Satisfaction for People Who are Materially Deprived? Exploring the Association among the Orang asli of Peninsular Malaysia

  • Colleen J. HowellEmail author
  • Ryan T. Howell
  • Kurt A. Schwabe


Recent studies investigating need theory and the extent to which money can buy happiness have called for more research within culturally homogeneous samples from developing countries to explore this relationship. We examine wealth as a measure of possessions and savings and relate this to subjective well-being (SWB) among poor indigenous farmers in Peninsular Malaysia. With hierarchical multiple regression, we find that the association between wealth and life satisfaction, after controlling for demographic variables, is positive and significant, β = 0.24, p<0.001. This effect is similar to effect sizes reported for other poor samples around the globe and is larger than what has been normally found in Western samples. Our analysis of the Malay translation of the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) reveals rather low internal reliability and prompts us to explore the potential wealth-SWB relationship in the absence of measurement error. We find a larger effect size when measurement error is removed, r = 0.43. We discuss the use of latent variable analysis to better interpret wealth-SWB effect sizes and recommend its use for future studies that use SWLS translations. Finally, we find that age, education, family size, and recent illness, while weak zero-order correlates of SWB, become significant predictors of life satisfaction when included with wealth in the multiple regression model. Some explanations and implications of these findings are conjectured. Our study contributes a unique sample to the expanding literature in support of need theory, and may be one of the first to examine the relationship between wealth and life satisfaction among a country’s aboriginal people.


indigenous poverty satisfaction with life scale subjective well-being wealth 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colleen J. Howell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ryan T. Howell
    • 1
  • Kurt A. Schwabe
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of California, RiversideRiversideUSA

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