Social Indicators Research

, Volume 81, Issue 2, pp 389–415 | Cite as

Satisfied and dissatisfied South Africans: results from the General Household Survey in international comparison

  • Valerie MøllerEmail author


Who are the satisfied South Africans 10 years into democracy? How do material factors contribute to their life satisfaction? These are the questions addressed in this paper. Earlier South African research has consistently found a close positive relationship between life satisfaction and material standards of living in the apartheid and post-apartheid era. Recently, a new source of information has become available to shed further light on the association between material and subjective well-being. In 2002, Statistics South Africa, the country’s official source of statistical information, agreed to ask South Africans participating in the General Household Survey whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with life. The 2002 General Household Survey (n26’000) used a measure developed for the Euromodule that allows for international comparison. The wide-ranging information contained in South Africa’s official␣household survey offers a unique opportunity to explore what makes for satisfied and dissatisfied South Africans in relation to their material living standards. Results indicate that the improved living standards afforded to many black South Africans under democracy are associated with increases in life satisfaction. Furthermore, habituation does not appear to have diluted the positive relationship between living standards and well-being. However, political factors continue to play an important role in shaping subjective well-being. In conclusion, it is argued that material gains might also have restored the pride and dignity denied to black South Africans in the past.


life satisfaction material living standards South Africa 


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The author is indebted to Statistics South Africa for including the Euromodule’s life satisfaction variable in its 2002 General Household Survey. The research was supported by a South African – Swedish partnership programme (Sida) grant to inquire into South African living standards in comparison with the Euromodule. The author thanks Swedish research partner, Joachim Vogel of Statistics Sweden, and Denis Huschka, Visiting Researcher in the Institute of Social and Economic Research in 2002, for their collegial support. Richard Devey at the University of KwaZulu-Natal kindly assisted with data processing. The usual disclaimers apply. Views are those expressed by the author and should not be attributed to the above.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Social and Economic ResearchRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

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