Relative Income and Subjective Well-Being of Urban Residents in China

  • Jichao Wang
  • Wei Yan
  • Jie ZhangEmail author
Original Paper


The purposes of this study are to examine subjective well-being and to test its correlation with social reference and self-expectations of urban residents in China. Data are obtained from the 2015 Chinese General Social Survey, and we focus on urban residents (N = 4857). Because the dependent variable is a sequence variable, the ordered logit model is used for data analysis. We find that absolute income remains an important factor in determining people’s subjective well-being. We also find that when relative income factors are included, the correlation between absolute income and subjective well-being is reduced. This suggests that the subjective well-being of urban residents is influenced not only by absolute income itself, but also—more importantly—by relative income based on social comparison and self-expectations. These findings have implications for the formulation of social policies to improve citizens’ happiness.


Subjective well-being Relative income Social reference Self-expectation Urban residents 



This study is supported by a grant from Beijing Institute of Psychology (Grant Number: 2017BJXLS08).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

We certify that the submission is our original work and not under review by any other publications. All the authors listed have approved the manuscript that is enclosed.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Central University of Finance and EconomicsBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of SociologyState University of New York College at BuffaloBuffaloUSA

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