Social Indicators Research

, Volume 132, Issue 1, pp 489–516 | Cite as

Internet Use and Subjective Well-Being in China

  • Peng NieEmail author
  • Alfonso Sousa-Poza
  • Galit Nimrod


Using data from the 2010 China Family Panel Studies, we analyze the association between Internet use and various measures of subjective well-being (SWB) in a sample of 16- to 60-year-old Chinese. Our analysis shows that although intensive Internet use is significantly associated with lower levels of SWB, we hardly observe any associations when the focus is on participation in specific online activities. Nevertheless, SWB depends on the reasons for using the Internet and the extent to which individuals feel that their Internet use is displacing other activities. Our results suggest that, contrary to previous findings, differences in beneficial outcomes (the third level digital divide) do not necessarily arise from individuals’ actual Internet use (the second level digital divide) but rather may result from their subjective perceptions of such usage. Our findings also point to a possible cultural factor that puts Chinese Internet users at psychological risk.


China Digital divides Depression Happiness Internet use Life satisfaction 

JEL Classification

I10 D10 J10 Q53 



We are very thankful to the Institute of Social Science Survey at Peking University for providing the CFPS data used in this study. We also gratefully acknowledge the grant support provided under the project, “Tuscany: a Global Laboratory for quality of Life”, promoted by Tuscany Region, Toscana Promozione and E.di C.s.p.a.-Polo Lionello Bonfanti, Prot. 2014/3014/8.4.1/30, Decreto n. 135 del 28/04/2014 and Decreto n. 325 del 15/12/2014. This present analysis is also an output of a scholarship from the Food Security Center at the University of Hohenheim, which is part of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) program “Exceed” and is supported by DAAD and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). This paper was presented at the International Conference on Quality of Life in Tuscany: Theory and Policy in Burchio FI. We would like to thank the participants for valuable comments as well as Francesco Sarracino, Stefano Bartolini and three anonymous referees for valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.


  1. Bakken, I. J., Wenzel, H. G., Götestam, K. G., Johansson, A., & Oren, A. (2008). Internet addiction among Norwegian adults: A stratified probability sample study. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 50, 121–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bessiere, K., Pressman, S., Kiesler, S., & Kraut, R. (2010). Effects of internet use on health and depression: A longitudinal study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 12, e6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2008). Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle? Social Science and Medicine, 66, 1733–1749.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brosnan, M., & Lee, W. (1998). A cross-cultural comparison of gender differences in computer attitudes and anxieties: The United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Computers in Human Behaviour, 14, 559–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Campbell, A. J., Cumming, S. R., & Hughes, I. (2006). Internet use by the socially fearful: Addiction or therapy? CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9, 69–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cao, H., Sun, Y., Wan, Y., Hao, J., & Tao, F. (2011). Problematic Internet use in Chinese adolescents and its relation to psychosomatic symptoms and life satisfaction. BMC Public Health, 11, 802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. China Internet Network Information Center. (2014). Thirty-third statistical report on Internet development in China. Beijing: CINIC.Google Scholar
  8. China Internet Network Information Center. (2015). Thirty-fifth statistical report on Internet development in China. Beijing: CINIC.Google Scholar
  9. Cotten, S. R., Ford, G., Ford, S., & Hale, T. M. (2012). Internet use and depression among older adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 496–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cotten, S. R., Goldner, M., Hale, T. M., & Drentea, P. (2011). The importance of type, amount, and timing of Internet use for understanding psychological distress. Social Science Quarterly, 92, 119–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davis, F. D., Bagozzi, R. P., & Warshaw, P. R. (1992). Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to use computers in the workplace. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22, 1111–1132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ford, G. S., & Ford, S. G. (2009). Internet use and depression among the elderly. Phoenix Center Policy Paper No. 38, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  13. Fortson, B. L., Scotti, J. R., Chen, Y. C., Malone, J., & Del Ben, K. S. (2007). Internet use, abuse, and dependence among students at a southeastern regional university. Journal of American College Health, 56, 137–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Frey, B., & Stutzer, A. (2002). What can economists learn from happiness research? Journal of Economic Literature, 40, 402–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hargittai, E. (2002). Second-level digital divide: Differences in people’s online skills. First Monday, 7, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Igbaria, M., Iivari, J., & Maragahh, H. (1995). Why do individuals use computer techonology? Information & Management, 5, 227–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Katsamanis, I. (2006). Computer use and predictors of life satisfaction among older adult computer users. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Carlos Albizu University, Doral, FL.Google Scholar
  18. Kavetsos, G., & Koutroumpis, P. (2011). Technological affluence and subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 32, 742–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kraut, R., Kiesler, S., Boneva, B., Cumming, S. R., Helgeson, V., & Crawford, A. (2002). Internet paradox revisited. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 49–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D. S., Lin, N., et al. (2013). Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PLoS One, 8, e69841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lam, L. T., & Peng, Z. W. (2010). Effect of pathological use of the Internet on adolescent mental health: A prospective study. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 164, 901–906.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lelkes, O. (2013). Happier and less isolated: Internet use in old age. Journal of Poverty and Social Justics, 21, 33–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Li, N., & Kirkup, G. (2007). Gender and cultural differences in Internet use: A study of China and the UK. Computers & Education, 48, 301–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mannell, R. C., Kaczynski, A. T., & Aronson, R. M. (2005). Adolescent participation and flow experience in physically active leisure and electronic media activities: Testing the displacement hypothesis. Loisir et Société/Society and Leisure, 28, 653–675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Meng, Z. L., & Zuo, M. Y. (2008). Why MSN lost to QQ in [the] China market? Different privacy protection design. International Journal of Security and Its Applications, 4, 81–87.Google Scholar
  26. Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China. (2010). 2009 national statistical bulletin of telecommunication. Beijing: MIITPRC.Google Scholar
  27. Morrison, C. M., & Gore, H. (2010). The relationship between excessive Internet use and depression: A questionnaire-based study of 1319 young people and adults. Psychopathology, 43, 121–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Newell, J., Pilotta, J. J., & Thomas, J. C. (2008). Mass media displacement and saturation. International Journal on Media Management, 10, 131–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nimrod, G. (2013). Challenging the internet paradox: Online depression communities and well-being. International Journal of Internet Science, 8, 30–48.Google Scholar
  30. Nossek, H., Adoni, H., & Nimrod, G. (2015). Is print really dying? The state of print media use in Europe. International Journal of Communication, 9, 365–385.Google Scholar
  31. Pénard, T., Poussing, N., & Suire, R. (2013). Does the Internet make people happier? Journal of Socio-Economics, 46, 105–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9, 1–6.Google Scholar
  33. Ren, Q., & Treiman, D. J. (2014). Living arrangements of the elderly in China and consequences for their emotional well-being. Working Paper No. WP14-001, Institute of Social Science Survey, Peking University.Google Scholar
  34. Roodman, D. (2011). Fitting fully observed recursive mixed-process models with CMP. Stata Journal, 11, 159–206.Google Scholar
  35. Sabatini, F., & Sarracino, F. (2014). Online networks and subjective well-being. MPRA Paper No. 56436, University Library of Munich.Google Scholar
  36. Selfhout, M. H. W., Branje, S. J. T., Delsing, M., Ter Bogt, T. F. M., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2009). Different types of Internet use, depression, and social anxiety: The role of perceived friendship quality. Journal of Adolescence, 32, 819–833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shaw, L. H., & Gant, L. M. (2002). In defense of the Internet: The relationship between Internet communication and depression, loneliness, self-esteem, and perceived social support. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 5, 157–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sousa-Poza, A. (1999). How does the level of education affect the allocation of women’s time to non-market labour? Discussion Paper No. 62. Research Institute for Labour Economics and Labour Law, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  39. Stepanikova, I., Nie, N. H., & He, X. (2010). Time on the Internet at home, loneliness, and life satisfaction: Evidence from panel time-diary data. Computers in Human Behaviour, 26, 329–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tandoc, E. C., Ferrucci, P., & Duffy, M. (2015). Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing? Computers in Human Behavior, 43, 139–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Teo, T. S. H., Vivien, K., Lim, G., Raye, Y., & Lai, C. (1999). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in Internet usage. Omega. International Journal of Management Science, 27, 25–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2007). Internet communications and its relation to well-being: Identifying some underlying mechanisms. Media Psychology, 9, 43–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wang, Q. B., & Li, M. H. (2012). Home computer ownership and Internet use in China: Trends, disparities, socioeconomic impacts, and policy implications. First Monday, 17, 2–6.Google Scholar
  44. Wang, J., & Wang, H. (2011). The predictive effects of online communication on well-being among Chinese adolescents. Psychology, 2, 359–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wei, K.-K., Teo, H.-H., Chan, H. C., & Tan, B. C. Y. (2011). Conceptualizing and testing a social cognitive model of the digital divide. Information Systems Research, 22, 170–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wickramasinghe, C. N., & Ahmad, N. (2013). Influence of Internet usage on social and subjective well-being of Sri Lankan GLIS. Journal of Happiness & Well-being, 1, 70–84.Google Scholar
  47. Woetzel, J., Orr, G., Lau, A., Chen, Y., Chang, E., Seong, J., et al. (2014). China’s digital transformation: The Internet’s impact on productivity and growth. San Francisco: McKinsey Global Institute.Google Scholar
  48. Wu, X., Chen, X., Han, J., Meng, H., Luo, J., Nydegger, L., & Wu, H. (2013). Prevalence and factors of addictive Internet use among adolescents in Wuhan, China: Interactions of parental relationship with age and hyperactivity-impulsivity. PLoS One, 8, e61782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Xiao, H. (2009). Study on QQ-medium-oriented ideological and political education of college students. Asian Social Science, 5, 74–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Xie, Y. (2012). China Family Panel Studies 2010 Users Manual. Beijing: Institute of Social Science Survey, Peking University.Google Scholar
  51. Xie, Y., Hu, J., & Zhang, C. (2014). The China Family Panel Studies (CFPS): Design and practice. Chinese Journal of Sociology (Shehui), 34, 1–33.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Health Care and Public ManagementUniversity of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Department of Communication Studies, The Center for Multidisciplinary Research in AgingBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeershebaIsrael

Personalised recommendations