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Effect of Changes in Living Conditions on Well-Being: A Prospective Top–Down Bottom–Up Model


Using the German Socio-Economic Panel, we examined life-satisfaction and housing satisfaction before and after moving (N = 3,658 participants from 2,162 households) with univariate and bivariate two-intercept two-slope latent growth models. The main findings were (a) a strong and persistent increase in average levels of housing satisfaction, (b) no increase in average life-satisfaction, (c) low stability in individuals’ level of housing satisfaction, and (d) high stability in individuals’ level of life-satisfaction. The results are discussed in the context of top–down and bottom–up models as well as adaptation theories of well-being. We conclude that moving or living in a better home is unrelated to life-satisfaction judgments for two reasons. First, housing makes a small contribution to life-satisfaction judgments. Second, positive effects of better housing are undermined by the greater costs of living in a better home. The results provide no support for the prediction of adaptation theory that shifting aspirations undermine the benefits of living in a better home.

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    We would like to point out that our aspiration spiral theory differs from Easterlin’s (1974) assumption that rising aspirations explain why average life-satisfaction increased little over the past decades. Easterlin actually assumed that individuals’ well-being increases with increasing wealth and improving living conditions for explaining positive correlations between income and life-satisfaction. However, he assumed that affluent individuals raise the aspiration levels of other individuals and as a result undermine their well-being. Over time this leads to an increase in the aspiration level of the population that counteracts positive effects of actual improvements in living conditions at the population level. While both aspiration theories can explain the Easterlin Paradox, our theory can explain why individuals’ well-being does not increase over time, whereas Easterlin’s aspiration theory assumes that objective living conditions have lasting effects on individuals’ well-being.

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This research was supported by the Lambuth Fellowship awarded to Naoki Nakazato from Kwansei Gakuin University. We thank Dr. David Flora of York University who taught the first author the latent growth curve modeling at SPIDA 2008 and all organizing committee members and teaching assistants of SPIDA 2008. We also thank Leann Schneider, Jamie Schiller, Nellie Jafari, Jesse Graham, and Dr. Takehiro Fujihara for their valuable comments on a draft of this article.

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Correspondence to Naoki Nakazato.

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Nakazato, N., Schimmack, U. & Oishi, S. Effect of Changes in Living Conditions on Well-Being: A Prospective Top–Down Bottom–Up Model. Soc Indic Res 100, 115–135 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-010-9607-6

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  • Well-being
  • Life-satisfaction
  • Housing satisfaction
  • Moving
  • Prospective study
  • Adaptation theory