Cross-National Variation in Individual Life Satisfaction: Effects of National Wealth, Human Development, and Environmental Conditions
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This study adds to the literature on subjective well-being and life satisfaction by exploring variation in individual life satisfaction across countries. Understanding whether and how individual life satisfaction varies across countries is important because if the goal of development is to increase well-being, we must identify the causes of well-being in different national and regional contexts. Using hierarchical linear modeling techniques, I test the hypothesis that individual well-being does vary across countries, and that national wealth, human development and environmental conditions explain this variation. I also test whether the effects of individual characteristics on life satisfaction (including age, marital status, education, income, employment status, and sex) vary across countries, and which country level characteristics explain these variations. Using individual level data from the World Values Survey, I find that there is significant variation in life satisfaction across countries. There is also significant variation in the slopes of individual predictors of life satisfaction across countries and regions. Regional differences in the effects of individual characteristics on life satisfaction explain most of the between country variation in life satisfaction. This indicates that universal development indicators may not adequately reflect differences in life satisfaction across countries, and that development measurements should better reflect regional differences.
KeywordsDevelopment Well-being Life satisfaction Welfare indicators Cross-national research Human development Environmental sustainability
I would like to thank Lingxin Hao and Stephen Plank for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers at Social Indicators Research for their comments.
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