Social Indicators Research

, Volume 126, Issue 3, pp 971–985 | Cite as

Relative Income, Relative Assets, and Happiness in Urban China

  • Jin Huang
  • Shiyou Wu
  • Suo DengEmail author


Does more money always mean that people are happier with their lives? To test the social comparison hypothesis as applied to happiness, this study uses survey data from the 2002 Chinese Household Income Project to examine the association between household economic resources and happiness in urban China. Household economic resources are measured as both income and assets (e.g., net worth and net worth minus home equity). In addition, the analyses include measures of relative income and relative assets. Results of ordinary least square regression analysis show a positive association of absolute income with the happiness score whereas relative income is negatively associated with happiness. Although household assets are a significant and positive predictor of self-assessments of happiness, measures of relative household assets do not correlate with happiness. Study findings suggest the level of happiness among urban populations could be increased through policies that promote pro-poor growth and equal distribution of economic resources. In addition, introducing asset-building policies as supplements to other social assistance programs may promote happiness.


Assets Happiness Income Life satisfaction Relative assets Relative income 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Work, College for Public Health and Social JusticeSaint Louis UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.School of Social WorkUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Sociology DepartmentPeking UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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