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Different Things Make Different People Happy: Examining Social Capital and Subjective Well-Being by Gender and Parental Status

Abstract

This paper addresses a number of key challenges in current subjective well-being (SWB) research: A new wave of studies should take into account that different things may make different people happy, thus going beyond a unitary ‘happiness formula’. Furthermore, empirical results need to be connected to broader theoretical narratives. Using a re-examination of the social context of well-being as its case study, this article therefore resorts to sociological theory and fills a gap by investigating how social capital is correlated in different ways with the SWB of men, women, parents, and non-parents. Ordered logit and OLS regression analyses systematically examine slope heterogeneity using UK data from the European Social Survey. It turns out that civic engagement is not at all associated with higher life satisfaction for mothers, while the relationship is positive for men and strongest for childless women. Moreover, informal socialising is positively and more strongly associated with life satisfaction among women, although only when OLS is used. In sum, the social context of well-being varies considerably by gender and parental status. Mothers do not seem to benefit from formal social capital, indicating a “motherhood penalty” (see Correll et al., Am J Sociol 112(5):1297–1338 in 2007) regarding the psychological rewards usually associated with volunteering. Given the high levels of formal social capital among mothers, the findings also highlight the importance of the homo sociologicus concept. Consequently, SWB research can be successfully used to provide new insights into long-standing interdisciplinary theory debates such as the one on homo economicus versus homo sociologicus.

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Notes

  1. For differences in the relationship between social capital and SWB by age see Kroll (2010).

  2. The terms volunteering, civic engagement, voluntary work, and formal social capital are used synonymously in this paper.

  3. The data and further information are available at http://europeansocialsurvey.org.

  4. Reflecting the mainstream understanding of social capital, marital ties are not part of the definition and operationalisation of social capital here (Halpern 2005: 14).

  5. More precisely, in the sensitivity analysis the civic engagement variable was recoded from [0 = never, 1 = less often, 2 = at least once every 6 months, 3 = at least once every 3 months, 4 = at least once a month, 5 = at least once a week] into [0 = never, 1 = less often, 2 = at least once every 6 months, 4 = at least once every 3 months, 5 = at least once a month, 9 = at least once a week]. Likewise, the socialising variable was recoded from [0 = never, 1 = less than once a month, 2 = once a month, 3 = several times a month, 4 = once a week, 5 = several times a week, 6 = every day] to [0 = never, 1 = less than once a month, 2 = once a month, 3 = several times a month, 5 = once a week, 7 = several times a week, 9 = every day].

  6. When trying to examine slope heterogeneity, interaction terms have important advantages over running regressions separately for sub-samples (Jaccard and Turrisi 2003: 36).

  7. There is no difference between the subgroups when altering the reference category (not shown).

  8. This view supports James Duesenberry’s (1960: 233) observation that: “Economics is all about how people make choices […] Sociology is all about how they don’t have any choices to make.”

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Ursula Henz, John Helliwell, Jouni Kuha, Richard Layard, Guy Mayraz, the anonymous reviewers, as well as the participants of the ISQOLS conference 2009 for helpful remarks in relation to this research. A Ph.D. scholarship by the Foundation of the German Economy is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Christian Kroll.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 4.

Table 4 OLS and ordered logit with social capital variables recoded onto a 10-point scale

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Kroll, C. Different Things Make Different People Happy: Examining Social Capital and Subjective Well-Being by Gender and Parental Status. Soc Indic Res 104, 157–177 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-010-9733-1

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Keywords

  • Life satisfaction
  • Social capital
  • Volunteering
  • Revealed preferences
  • Homo sociologicus
  • Homo economicus