Better Government, Happier Residents? Quality of Government and Life Satisfaction in China

  • Huaxing Liu
  • Hong Gao
  • Qing HuangEmail author
Original Research


How quality of government affects residents’ life satisfaction is a seldom discussed subject, especially in a non-democratic context. This research aims to address that gap by focusing on the case of China. It investigates the relation between different aspects of quality of government and Chinese residents’ happiness. Our data was provided by telephone interviews of 5015 residents in Shandong Province. The findings indicate that the majority of China’s citizens consider their lives offer them a high level of satisfaction. Positively and significantly contributing to their life satisfaction are the government’s trustworthiness and responsiveness, and its performance in public service delivery. This result implies that the quality of government has a positive and important impact on Chinese citizens’ happiness, both technically in terms of its ability to deliver public services efficiently, and politically in terms of the extent of democracy involved. But of these, it seems that the former is the more significant. The reasons for this lie in the country’s level of economic development, in China’s political culture, and in the policing mechanisms of the regime.


Quality of government Life satisfaction China 



We thank Dr. Jiayuan Li, Dr. Geoffrey Chen, Dr. Mattias Ottervik, Dr. Jintao Li, Dr. Zongfeng Sun, Dr. Wei He, Tim Davies and two reviewers for their comments and suggestions.


This work is supported by Major Projects of the National Social Science Fund [16ZDA080], Youth Project of National Social Science Fund of China [Grant No. 18CZZ021], and MOE (Ministry of Education in China) Youth Foundation Project of Humanities and Social Sciences [Grant No. 19YJC630102].


  1. Abbott, P., Wallace, C., Lin, K., & Haerpfer, C. (2016). The quality of society and life satisfaction in China. Social Indicators Research, 127(2), 653–670.Google Scholar
  2. Alpermann, B. (2011). Class, citizenship and individualization in China’s modernization. Proto Sociology, 28, 7–24.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, J. C., & Gerbing, D. W. (1988). Structural equation modeling in practice: A review and recommended two-step approach. Psychological Bulletin, 103(3), 411–423.Google Scholar
  4. Appleton, S., & Song, L. (2008). Life satisfaction in urban China: Components and determinants. World Development, 36(11), 2325–2340.Google Scholar
  5. Asadullah, M. N., Xiao, S., & Yeoh, E. (2018). Subjective well-being in China, 2005–2010: The role of relative income, gender, and location. China Economic Review, 48, 83–101.Google Scholar
  6. Bache, I., Reardon, L., & Anand, P. (2016). Wellbeing as a wicked problem: Navigating the arguments for the role of government. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(3), 893–912.Google Scholar
  7. Bagozzi, P. R., & Yi, Y. (2012). Specification, evaluation, and interpretation of structural equation models. Academy of Marketing Science, 40, 8–34.Google Scholar
  8. Bagozzi, R., & Yi, Y. (1988). On the evaluation of structural equation models. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 16, 74–94.Google Scholar
  9. Bjørnskov, C., Dreher, A., & Fischer, J. A. (2007). The bigger the better? Evidence of the effect of government size on life satisfaction around the world. Public Choice, 130(3–4), 267–292.Google Scholar
  10. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2004). Well-being over time in Britain and the USA. Journal of Public Economics, 88(7–8), 1359–1386.Google Scholar
  11. Böhnke, P. (2008). Does society matter? Life satisfaction in the enlarged Europe. Social Indicators Research, 87(2), 189–210.Google Scholar
  12. Bok, D. (2011). The politics of happiness: What government can learn from the new research on well-being. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bouckaert, G., & Van de Walle, S. (2001). Government performance and trust in government. In Paper for the permanent study group on productivity and quality in the public sector at the EGPA annual conference.Google Scholar
  14. Brockmann, H., Delhey, J., Welzel, C., & Yuan, H. (2009). The China puzzle: Falling happiness in a rising economy. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10(4), 387–405.Google Scholar
  15. Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., & Rodgers, W. L. (1976). The quality of american life: perceptions, evaluations, and satisfactions. New York, NY: Russel Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  16. Chan, Y. K., & Lee, R. P. (2006). Network size, social support and happiness in later life: A comparative study of Beijing and Hong Kong. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(1), 87–112.Google Scholar
  17. Chang, E. C. C., & Chu, Y. (2006). Corruption and trust: Exceptionalism in Asian democracies? The Journal of Politics, 68(2), 259–271.Google Scholar
  18. Chen, S., & Yue, G. (2001). A research on urban residents’ life satisfaction and its related factors. Psychological Science, 6, 664–666.Google Scholar
  19. Cheung, G. W., & Lau, R. S. (2008). Testing mediation and suppression effects of latent variables: Bootstrapping with structural equation models. Organizational Research Methods, 11(2), 296–325.Google Scholar
  20. Cheung, C. K., & Leung, K. K. (2007). Enhancing life satisfaction by government accountability in China. Social Indicators Research, 82(3), 411–432.Google Scholar
  21. Cheung, F., & Lucas, R. E. (2014). Assessing the validity of single-item life satisfaction measures: Results from three large samples. Quality of Life Research, 23, 2809–2818.Google Scholar
  22. Chi, K. S. (1999). Improving responsiveness. Public Administration Review, 59(3), 278–280.Google Scholar
  23. Chin-Hon-Foei, S. (1989). Life-satisfaction in the EC-countries 1975–1984. In A. Hagenaars (Ed.), Did the crisis really hurt? Effects of the 1980–1982 economic recession on satisfaction, mental health and mortality (pp. 24–43). Rotterdam: Universitaire Pers Rotterdam.Google Scholar
  24. Clark, A. E., Frijters, P., & Shields, M. A. (2008). Relative income, happiness, and utility: An explanation for the Easterlin paradox and other puzzles. Journal of Economic Literature, 46(1), 95–144.Google Scholar
  25. Denhardt, R. B. (2002). Trust as capacity: The role of integrity and responsiveness. Public Organization Review, 2, 65–75.Google Scholar
  26. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assesment, 49, 71–75.Google Scholar
  27. Dittmer, L., & Liu, G. (2006). China’s deep reform: Domestic politics in transition. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  28. Djankov, S., Nikolova, E., & Zilinsky, J. (2016). The happiness gap in Eastern Europe. Journal of Comparative Economics, 44(1), 108–124.Google Scholar
  29. Easterlin, R. A. (1974). Does economic growth improve the human lot? In P. A. David & M. W. Reder (Eds.), Nations and households in economic growth: Essays in honor of Mozes Abramowitz (pp. 89–125). New York, NY: Academic press.Google Scholar
  30. Easterlin, R. A. (2005). Feeding the illusion of growth and happiness: A reply to Hagerty and Veenhoven. Social Indicators Research, 74, 429–443.Google Scholar
  31. Easterlin, R. A. (2009). Lost in transition: Life satisfaction on the road to capitalism. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 71(2), 130–145.Google Scholar
  32. Easterlin, R. A., McVey, L. A., Switek, M., Sawangfa, O., & Zweig, J. S. (2010). The happiness—income paradox revisited. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(52), 22463–22468.Google Scholar
  33. Easterlin, R. A., Morgan, R., Switek, M., & Wang, F. (2012). China’s life satisfaction, 1990–2010. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(25), 9775–9780.Google Scholar
  34. Egan, M. (2017). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. Macat Library.Google Scholar
  35. Ekici, T., & Koydemir, S. (2014). Social capital, government and democracy satisfaction, and happiness in Turkey: A comparison of surveys in 1999 and 2008. Social Indicators Research, 118(3), 1031–1053.Google Scholar
  36. Frey, B. S. (2008). Happiness: A revolution in economics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  37. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2000). Happiness, economy and institutions. Economic Journal, 110(446), 918–938.Google Scholar
  38. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2005). Happiness research: State and prospects. Review of Social Economy, 63(2), 207–228.Google Scholar
  39. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2010). Happiness and economics: How the economy and institutions affect human well-being. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Frijters, P., Haisken-DeNew, J. P., & Shields, M. A. (2004). Money does matter! Evidence from increasing real income and life satisfaction in East Germany following reunification. American Economic Review, 94(3), 730–740.Google Scholar
  41. Gao, S., Meng, X., & Zhang, L. (2014). Fiscal decentralization and life satisfaction: Evidence from urban China. Social Indicators Research, 119(3), 1177–1194.Google Scholar
  42. Gao, X., & Zhai, X. (2013). Government trust in urban and rural areas in China. Sociological Studies, 2, 1–27.Google Scholar
  43. Giordano, L., Toma, S., Teggi, R., Palonta, F., & Ferrario, F. (2011). Satisfaction and quality of life in laryngectomees after voice prosthesis rehabilitation. Folia Phoniatrica Et Logopaedica, 63(5), 231–236.Google Scholar
  44. Graham, C., Zhou, S., & Zhang, J. (2015). Happiness and health in China: The paradox of progress. World Development, 96, 231–244.Google Scholar
  45. Gruen, C., & Klasen, S. (2012). Has transition improved well-being? Economic Systems, 36(1), 11–30.Google Scholar
  46. Helliwell, J. F., & Huang, H. (2008). How’s your government? International evidence linking good government and well-being. British Journal of Political Science, 38(4), 595–619.Google Scholar
  47. Hetherington, M. J. (1998). The political relevance of political trust. American Political Science Review, 92, 791–808.Google Scholar
  48. Inglehart, R. (1990). Culture shift in advanced industrial society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Ji, J., Xu, X., & Rich, S. L. (2002). Determinants of family life satisfaction in reforming urban China. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 43(2), 169–191.Google Scholar
  50. Jiang, X. (2014). Social governance system innovation in the process of national governance modernization. Chinese Public Administration, 2, 24–28.Google Scholar
  51. Kampen, J. K., Maddens, B., & Vermunt, J. K. (2003). Trust and satisfaction: A case study of the micro-performance. Governing Networks: EGPA Yearbook, 22, 319–326.Google Scholar
  52. Kim, S. (2010). Public trust in government in Japan and South Korea: Does the rise of critical citizens matter? Public Administration Review, 70(5), 801–810.Google Scholar
  53. Kline, R. B. (2005). Principles and practices of structural equation modeling (2nd ed.). New York, NJ: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  54. Knight, J., & Gunatilaka, R. (2010). Great expectations? The subjective well-being of rural–urban migrants in China. World Development, 38(1), 113–124.Google Scholar
  55. Knight, J., & Gunatilaka, R. (2011). Does economic growth raise happiness in China? Oxford Development Studies, 39(01), 1–24.Google Scholar
  56. Knoll, B., & Pitlik, H. (2016). Who benefits from big government? A life satisfaction approach. Empirica, 43(3), 533–557.Google Scholar
  57. Lam, K. C. J., & Liu, P. W. (2014). Socio-economic inequalities in happiness in China and US. Social Indicators Research, 116(2), 509–533.Google Scholar
  58. Li, J., & Raine, J. (2014). The time trend of life satisfaction in China. Social Indicators Research, 116, 409–427.Google Scholar
  59. Liang, Y. (2016). Trust in Chinese government and quality of life (QOL) of Sichuan earthquake survivors: Does trust in government help to promote QOL? Social Indicators Research, 127, 541–564.Google Scholar
  60. Little, T. D. (1997). Mean and covariance structures (macs) analyses of cross-cultural data: Practical and theoretical issues. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 32(1), 53–76.Google Scholar
  61. Liu, H. (2015). Why is local government less trusted than central local government in China? Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.Google Scholar
  62. Liu, H., & Raine, J. (2016). Why is there less public trust in local government than in central government in China? International Journal of Public Administration, 39(4), 258–269.Google Scholar
  63. Liu, Z., & Shang, Q. (2012). Individual well-being in urban China: The role of income expectations. China Economic Review, 23(4), 833–849.Google Scholar
  64. Lu, K. (2009). From government response to respondent governance: Trends in government theory research. Chinese Public Administration, 9, 61–65.Google Scholar
  65. Lucas, R. E. (2007). Adaptation and the set-point model of subjective well-being: Does happiness change after major life events? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(2), 75–79.Google Scholar
  66. Mafini, C., & Meyer, D. F. (2016). Satisfaction with life amongst the urban poor: empirical results from South Africa. Acta Universitatis Danubius. Œconomica, 12(5), 33–50.Google Scholar
  67. Mishler, W., & Rose, R. (1997). Trust, distrust, and skepticism: Popular evaluations of civil and political institutions in post-communist societies. Journal of Politics, 59(2), 418–451.Google Scholar
  68. Mueller, G. P. (2009). Trust and life satisfaction in Eastern and Western Europe. In Quality of life and the millennium challenge (pp. 161–176). Springer, Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  69. Ngoo, Y. T., Tey, N. P., & Tan, E. C. (2015). Determinants of life satisfaction in Asia. Social Indicators Research, 124(1), 141–156.Google Scholar
  70. Nigel, G., & Anna, B. (2014). The consequences of ignoring measurement invariance for path coefficients in structural equation models. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1–16.Google Scholar
  71. Ott, J. C. (2011). Government and happiness in 130 nations: Good governance fosters higher level and more equality of happiness. Social Indicators Research, 102(1), 3–22.Google Scholar
  72. Pacek, A., Radcliff, B., & Brockway, M. (2018). Well-being and the democratic state: How the public sector promotes human happiness. Social Indicators Research, 1–13.Google Scholar
  73. Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (2008). The satisfaction with life scale and the emerging construct of life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 3(2), 137–152.Google Scholar
  74. Putnick, D. L., & Bornstein, M. H. (2016). Measurement invariance conventions and reporting: The state of the art and future directions for psychological research. Developmental Review, 41, 71–90.Google Scholar
  75. Radcliff, B. (2001). Politics, markets, and life satisfaction: The political economy of human happiness. American Political Science Review, 95(4), 939–952.Google Scholar
  76. Rose, L. E., & Pettersen, P. A. (2000). The legitimacy of local government: What makes a difference? Evidence from Norway. In K. Hoggart & T. Nichols Clark (Eds.), Citizen responsive government (pp. 25–66). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  77. Saad, L. (2004). A nation of happy people: Most Americans are happy and satisfied with their life. Gallup Poll News Services, 5 January 2004. Gallup Organization, Washington DC, USA.Google Scholar
  78. Steele, L. G., & Lynch, S. M. (2013). The pursuit of happiness in China: Individualism, collectivism, and subjective well-being during China’s economic and social transformation. Social Indicators Research, 114(2), 441–451.Google Scholar
  79. Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2008). Economic growth and subjective well-being: Reassessing the Easterlin paradox. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 4(1), 1–87.Google Scholar
  80. Sujarwoto, S., & Tampubolon, G. (2015). Decentralisation and citizen happiness: A multilevel analysis of self-rated happiness in Indonesia. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(2), 455–475.Google Scholar
  81. Swider, S. (2015). Reshaping China’s urban citizenship: Street vendors, chengguan and struggles over the right to the city. Critical Sociology, 41(4–5), 701–716.Google Scholar
  82. Thomas, P., & Palfrey, C. (1996). Evaluation: Stakeholder-focused criteria. Social Policy and Administration, 20(2), 125–142.Google Scholar
  83. Van De Schoot, R., Lugtig, P., & Hox, J. (2012). A checklist for testing measurement invariance. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(4), 486–492.Google Scholar
  84. Van de Walle, S., Kampen, J. K., & Bouckaert, G. (2005). Deep impact for high impact agencies? Assessing the role of bureaucratic encounters in evaluations of government. Public Performance and Management Review, 28(4), 532–549.Google Scholar
  85. Veenhoven, R. (1996). The study of life satisfaction. In W. E. Saris, R. Veenhoven, A. C. Scherpenzeel, & B. Bunting (Eds.), A comparative study of satisfaction with life in Europe (pp. 11–48). Budapest: Eötvös University Press.Google Scholar
  86. Veenhoven, R., & Hagerty, M. (2006). Rising happiness in nations 1946—2004: A reply to Easterlin. Social Indicators Research, 79(3), 421–436.Google Scholar
  87. Wang, X., Gao, L., Zhang, H., Zhao, C., Shen, Y., & Shinfuku, N. (2000). Post-earthquake quality of life and psychological well-being: Longitudinal evaluation in a rural community sample in northern China. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 54(4), 427–433.Google Scholar
  88. Wang, Z., & You, Y. (2016). The arrival of critical citizens: Decline of political trust and shifting public priorities in China. International Review of Sociology, 26(1), 105–124.Google Scholar
  89. Whiteley, P., Clarke, H. D., Sanders, D., & Stewart, M. C. (2010). Government performance and life satisfaction in contemporary Britain. The Journal of Politics, 72(3), 733–746.Google Scholar
  90. Woo, C. (2018). Good governance and happiness: Does technical quality of governance lead to happiness universally in both rich and poor countries? Journal of International and Area Studies, 25(1), 37–56.Google Scholar
  91. Wu, M. (2007). Structural equation modeling: The implication of AMOS. Chongqing: Chong Qing University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Wu, Y., & Zhu, J. (2016). When are people unhappy? Corruption experience, environment, and life satisfaction in Mainland China. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(3), 1125–1147.Google Scholar
  93. Yan, L. (2018). The practical experience, problems and focuses of reform of China’s national governance since the reform and openning policy. Journal of Xi’an Jiaotong University, 6, 1–10.Google Scholar
  94. Zhou, S., Wang, H., & Su, Y. (2015). How can the Chinese have a higher level of happiness? Empirical survey based on China Minsheng Development Index Number. Management World, 6, 8–21.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Contemporary Socialism (ICS), School of Political Science and Public AdministrationShandong UniversityQingdaoChina
  2. 2.School of Political Science and Public AdministrationChina University of Political Science and LawBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations