Social Indicators Research

, Volume 98, Issue 3, pp 475–499 | Cite as

The Relation Between Life Satisfaction and the Material Situation: A Re-Evaluation Using Alternative Measures

  • Bernhard ChristophEmail author


Among the surprising results of research on the relation between a person’s material circumstances and his or her subjective well-being was the finding that this relationship appears to be rather weak (throughout this paper the terms ‘(general) life satisfaction’, ‘(subjective) satisfaction’, ‘happiness’ and ‘subjective well-being’ will be used interchangeably. The same applies to the terms ‘material circumstances’, ‘material conditions’, ‘material situation’ and ‘material well-being’). However, more recently authors began to ask the question, whether this might at least in part be explained by the insufficiencies of income as an indicator for the material situation. Building on this idea, they have shown that the inclusion of alternative measures for the respondents’ material situation—such as wealth measures in particular—reveals that the relationship between a person’s material well-being and his or her subjective well-being might just be somewhat stronger than researchers thought before. The paper will follow this lead but will go beyond current research by first, systematically reviewing the various approaches available for measuring the material situation and second, by proposing the use of a so-called deprivation index, an alternative measure of material well-being, which is frequently used in the context of poverty research (compare e.g. Townsend in Poverty in the United Kingdom, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1979; Halleröd in J Eur Soc Policy 5:111–129, 1995; Nolan and Whelan in J Eur Soc Policy 6:225–240, 1996). It will be argued, that such a deprivation based measure will perform better than indicators like income or wealth when analyzing the relationship between material conditions and subjective well-being. This hypothesis will be tested using three different German datasets. Based on this data it will be shown that in all cases deprivation measures perform better in explaining differences in subjective well-being than the alternatives. However, both types of measures seem to capture slightly different aspects of the material situation, a result which has also been found in the poverty literature cited above. Thus using a combination of both seems to be the best alternative.


Subjective well-being Standard of living Income 



The author likes to thank Heinz-Herbert Noll, Gerhard Krug, Torsten Lietzmann and the anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Employment Research (IAB)NurembergGermany

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