Skip to main content

Personality and Subjective Well-Being: Evidence from South Korea

Abstract

Although the statistically significant relationship between personality traits and subjective well-being (i.e., self-reported happiness and life satisfaction) is well-known in the field of positive psychology, some scholars still cast doubt on the external validity of this finding and the strength of personality dimensions vis-à-vis other individual-level determinants of subjective well-being such as income, employment status, marital status, self-reported health, and so on. Using a nationally representative, face-to-face survey fielded in South Korea in 2009, we find that personality traits (measured by the Five-factor Model)—particularly, Emotional Stability and Extraversion—are positively associated with happiness and life satisfaction, after controlling for other covariates. The effects of personality traits are often on par with, and sometimes even greater than, those of other well-known determinants.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. A few studies have examined the relationship between personality and subjective well-being using college student samples in South Korea, but they focus on personality traits (e.g., self-esteem and optimism) that are conceptually different from the “Big Five” (e.g., Cha 2003).

  2. The codebooks and cumulative data of the 2003–2009 KGSS are available at http://www.kossda.or.kr/eng/.

  3. The response rate of 63.4% is slightly lower than that of the General Social Survey in the United States, which is usually over 70%. A comparison with the Korean Census suggests that it does not undermine the demographic representativeness of the survey.

  4. Some of previous literature (e.g., Campbell et al. 1976) consider happiness (unlike life satisfaction) as an affective orientation. Though conceptual difference between life satisfaction and happiness clearly exists, recent studies (e.g., Lucas and Diener 2008) tend to put them in the same dimension, presumably because happiness in the survey setting is believed not to tap on affective dimension. In surveys, questions on life satisfaction and happiness lead respondents to evaluate one’s quality of life retrospectively, and the answers will be a weighted sum of reflective judgments of one’s life. In order to grasp affective orientation that happiness involves, it will be better to rely on experience sampling that allows us to track down one’s emotional experiences in daily life.

  5. The first author translated the TIPI into Korean. We did not compare the Korean TIPI with other, longer personality batteries in Korean because it would not be particularly helpful to build construct validity of the Korea TIPI for two reasons. First, the longer batteries available in South Korea are not validated ones, which are basically translated in Korean from English, not created through a series of factor analysis of Korean adjectives from scratch. Therefore, though we know that the Korean version of the “Big Five” based on longer batteries is by and large similar to its English version, we cannot rule out the possibility that there are some noticeable differences between them, presumably due to some unobservable problems in translation (e.g., Schmitt et al. 2007). Second, even though we assume that the “Big Five” measured by longer batteries of Korean adjectives is quite reliable, it is practically impossible to add them to a face-to-face, nationally representative, survey because they are too long to be included. It may be possible to compare the TIPI with longer measures used in previous studies (e.g., Yik et al. 2002), but it will not be helpful because of some fundamental differences between convenience samples from the college student body and a nationally representative sample that covers the whole population.

  6. For a partial list of research that has used the TIPI and its translated versions, see Samuel Gosling’s website: http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/faculty/gosling/scales_we.htm (last visited on February 2, 2012).

  7. A detailed discussion on the relationship between socio-demographic factors and subjective well-being is available at Argyle (2001) and Dolan et al. (2008).

  8. For the reasons we stated above, we did not conduct mediation analysis to identify causal mechanism here.

  9. In another set of models, we also consider the province-level fixed effects, to ensure that our results are not the products of some correlation between personality traits and other factors that might affect subjective well-being (e.g., province-level socio-cultural differences). The results are fairly similar to those reported here (available upon request from the authors).

  10. In this context, it is very suggestive that the relationship between personality and political ideology does not elegantly replicate well-established findings in the US and Europe (e.g., Gerber et al. 2010; Jost et al. 2009). An exploratory analysis shows that Openness is positively associated with political liberalism, but Conscientiousness is not necessarily associated with political conservatism in South Korea.

  11. We report the min-max effects here in order to make our interpretation straightforward. It is also easy to calculate other types of marginal effects (e.g., from mean to maximum, from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile, etc) following the same procedure. It is also doable to report the changes in predicted probability of choosing another value in the dependent variable (e.g., 2 “dissatisfied/unhappy” instead of 4 “satisfied/happy”).

  12. The finding that Emotional Stability has larger effect than Extraversion is also reported in previous meta-analysis (e.g., DeNeve and Cooper 1998; Steel et al. 2008). Unfortunately, we do not have any convincing answer for this. On the one hand, previous research is silent on this finding. On the other hand, theoretical pieces (e.g., Gray 1991) do not suggest that BIS (behavioral inhibition system)—linked with Emotional Stability—is more active than BAS (behavioral activation system)—linked with Extraversion. Hence, we believe this issue is a theoretically daunting task that cannot be resolved empirically, and therefore it is beyond the range and scope of this paper.

References

  • Allport, G. W., & Odbert, H. S. (1936). Trait-names: A psycho-lexical study. Princeton, NJ: Psychological Review Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alvarez-Díaz, A., González, L., & Radcliff, B. (2010). The politics of happiness: On the political determinants of quality of life in the American states. Journal of Politics, 72, 894–905.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Argyle, M. (2001). The psychology of happiness (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blanchflower, D., & Oswald, A. (2008). Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle? Social Science and Medicine, 66, 1733–1749.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Borghans, L., Duckworth, A. L., Heckman, J. J., & ter Weel, B. (2008). The economics and psychology of personality traits. Journal of Human Resources, 43, 972–1059.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bouchard, T. J., Jr. (2004). Genetic influence on human psychological traits. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 148–151.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bullock, J. G., Green, D. P., & Ha, S. E. (2010). Yes, but what’s the mechanism? (Do not expect an easy answer). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 550–558.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., & Rodgers, W. L. (1976). The quality of American life: Perceptions, evaluations, and satisfactions. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carney, D. R., Jost, J. T., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2008). The secret lives of liberals and conservatives: Personality profiles, interaction styles, and the things they leave behind. Political Psychology, 29, 807–840.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caspi, A., Roberts, B. W., & Shiner, R. L. (2005). Personality development: Stability and change. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 453–484.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cattell, R. B. (1943). The description of personality: Basic traits resolved into clusters. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 38, 476–506.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cha, K.-H. (2003). Subjective well-being among college students. Social Indicators Research, 62(63), 455–477.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1980). Influence of extraversion and neuroticism on subjective well-being: Happy and unhappy people. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 668–678.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO PI-R. Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Hunter, J. (2003). Happiness in everyday life: The uses of experience sampling. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 185–199.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DeNeve, K. M., & Cooper, H. (1998). The happy personality: A meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 197–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Di Tella, R., MacCulloch, R., & Oswald, A. (2001). Preferences over inflation and unemployment: Evidence from surveys of happiness. American Economic Review, 91, 335–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2002). Will money increase subjective well-being? A literature review and guide to needed research. Social Indicators Research, 57, 119–169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Diener, E., Diener, M., & Diener, C. (1995). Factors predicting the subjective well-being of nations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 851–864.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Diener, E., Gohm, C. L., Suh, E., & Oishi, S. (2000). Similarity of the relations between marital status and subjective well-being across cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31, 419–436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Diener, E., & Lucas, R. E. (1999). Personality and subjective well-being. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwartz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundation of hedonic psychology (pp. 213–229). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Lucas, R. E. (2003). Personality, culture, and subjective well-being: Emotional and cognitive evaluations of life. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 403–425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dolan, P., Peasgood, T., & White, M. (2008). Do we really know what makes us happy: A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29, 94–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Easterlin, R. A. (2001). Income and happiness: Towards a unified theory. Economic Journal, 111, 465–484.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Easterlin, R. A. (2006). Life cycle happiness and its sources: Intersections of psychology, economics and demography. Journal of Economic Psychology, 27, 463–482.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, S. B. G. (1976). Psychoticism as a dimensions of personality. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Feldman, S., & Johnston, C. (2009). Understanding the determinants of political ideology: Implications of structural complexity. Stony Brook University. Typescript.

  • Flavin, P., Pacek, A. C., & Radcliff, B. (2010). Labor unions and life satisfaction: Evidence from new data. Social Indicators Research, 98, 435–449.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Funder, D. C. (2008). Persons, situations, and person-situation interactions. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 568–580). New York: Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Funder, D. C., & Fast, L. A. (2010). Personality in social psychology. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindsey (Eds.). Handbook of social psychology. 5th edition (pp.668-697). New York. Wiley.

  • Gerber, A. S., Huber, G. A., Doherty, D., Dowling, C. M., & Ha, S. E. (2010). Personality and political attitudes: Relationships across issue domains and political contexts. American Political Science Review, 104, 111–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldberg, L. R. (1990). An alternative ‘description of personality’: The big-five factor structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1216–1229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gosling, S. D. (2008). Snoop: What your stuff says about you. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2003). A very brief measure of the big-five personality domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504–528.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gray, J. A. (1991). Neural systems, emotion, and personality. In J. Madden (Ed.), Neurobiology of learning, emotion, and affect (pp. 273–306). New York: Raven Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heine, S. J., & Buchtel, E. E. (2009). Personality: The universal and the culturally specific. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 369–394.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Helliwell, J. F. (2003). How’s life? Combining individual and national variables to explain subjective well-being. Economic Modelling, 20, 331–360.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Helliwell, J. F. (2006). Well-being, social capital, and public policy: What’s new? Economic Journal, 116, C34–C45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Helliwell, J. F., & Putnam, R. (2004). The social context of well-being. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 359, 1435–1446.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Inglehart, R. (2002). Gender, aging, and subjective well-being. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 43, 391–408.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • John, O. P., Naumann, L. P., & Soto, C. J. (2008). Paradigm shift to the integrative big five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and conceptual issues. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 114–158). New York: Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, W., & Krueger, R. F. (2006). How money buys happiness: Genetic and environmental processes linking finances and life satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 680–691.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jost, J. T. (2006). The end of the end of history. American Psychologist, 61, 651–670.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jost, J. T., Federico, C. M., & Napier, J. L. (2009). Political ideology: Its structure, functions, and elective affinities. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 307–337.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kahneman, D., & Krueger, A. B. (2006). Developments in the measurement of subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20, 3–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lelkes, O. (2006). Knowing what is good for you: Empirical analysis of personal preferences and the “objective good”. Journal of Socio-Economics, 35, 285–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leung, S. L., & Bozionelos, N. (2004). Five-factor model traits and the prototypical image of the effective leader in the Confucian culture. Employee Relations, 26, 62–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lim, C., & Putnam, R. (2010). Religion, social networks, and life satisfaction. American Sociological Review, 75, 914–933.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Long, J. S., & Freese, J. (2005). Regression models for categorical dependent variables using Stata. College Station, TX: Stata Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lucas, R. E., & Diener, E. (2008). Personality and subjective well-being. In O. P. John, R. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 795–814). New York: Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1991). Adding liebe und arbeit: The full five-factor model and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 227–232.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCrae, R. R. (2002). NEO-PI-R data from 36 cultures: Further intercultural comparisons. In R. R. McCrae & J. Allik (Eds.), The five-factor model of personality across cultures (pp. 105–125). New York: Kluwer Academic.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (2008). The five-factor theory of personality. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 159–181). New York: Guilford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mondak, J. J. (2010). Personality and the foundations of political behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Myers, D. G. (1999). Close relationship and quality of life. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwartz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundation of hedonic psychology (pp. 374–391). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Napier, J. L., & Jost, J. T. (2008). Why are conservatives happier than liberal? Psychological Science, 19, 565–572.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Okun, M. A., Stock, W. A., Haring, M. J., & Witter, R. A. (1984). Health and subjective well-being: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 19, 111–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ozer, D. J., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2006). Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 401–421.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pacheco, G., & Lange, T. (2010). Political participation and life satisfaction: A cross-European analysis. International Journal of Social Economics, 37, 686–702.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Paunonen, S. V., & Ashton, M. C. (2001). Big five factors and facets and the prediction of behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 524–539.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pussman, S. D., & Cohen, S. (2005). Does positive affect influence health? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 925–971.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmitt, D. P., Allik, J., McCrae, R. R., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2007). The geographic distribution of Big Five personality traits: Patterns and profiles of human self-description across 56 countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 28, 173–212.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scollon, C., Kim-Prieto, C., & Diener, E. (2003). Experience sampling: Promises and pitfalls, strengths and weaknesses. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 5–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spencer, S. J., Zanna, M. P., & Fong, G. T. (2005). Establishing a causal chain: Why experiments are often more effective than mediation analyses in examining psychological processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 845–851.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steel, P., Schmidt, J., & Shultz, J. (2008). Refining the relationship between personality and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 138–161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stutzer, A., & Frey, B. S. (2006a). Does marriage make people happy or do happy people get married? Journal of Socio-Economics, 35, 326–347.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stutzer, A., & Frey, B. S. (2006b). Political participation and procedural utility: An empirical study. European Journal of Political Research, 45, 391–418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Gestel, S., & Van Broeckhoven, C. (2003). Genetics of personality: are we making progress? Molecular Psychiatry, 8, 840–852.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Witter, R. A., Okun, M. A., Stock, W. A., & Haring, M. J. (1984). Education and subjective well-being: A meta-analysis. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 6, 165–173.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yik, M. S. M., Russell, J. A., Ahn, C.-K., Dols, J. M. F., & Suzuki, N. (2002). Relating the five-factor model of personality to a circumplex model of affect. In R. R. McCrae & J. Allik (Eds.), The five-factor model of personality across cultures (pp. 79–104). New York: Kluwer Academic.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgment

This paper was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean goverment (NRF-2010-330-B00128).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shang E. Ha.

Appendices

Appendix A: Variable Coding and Question Wording

Personality: TIPI (10 Trait Pairs)

Here are a number of personality traits that may or may not apply to you. Please write a number next to each statement to indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with that statement. You should rate the extent to which the pair of traits applies to you, even if one characteristic applies more strongly than the other. I see myself as:

  • Extraversion Extraverted, enthusiastic; Reserved, quiet (Reverse coded)

  • Agreeableness Sympathetic, warm; Critical, quarrelsome (Reverse coded)

  • Conscientiousness Dependable, self-disciplined; Disorganized, careless (Reverse coded)

  • Emotional Stability Calm, emotionally stable; Anxious, easily upset (Reverse coded)

  • Openness: Open to new experiences, complex; Conventional, uncreative (Reverse coded)

(1 = Disagree strongly; 2 = Disagree moderately; 3 = Disagree a little; 4 = Neither agree nor disagree; 5 = Agree a little; 6 = Agree moderately; 7 = Agree strongly. Responses rescaled to range from 0 to 1.)

Subjective Well-Being

Life Satisfaction “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?” (1 = Very Dissatisfied; 5 = Very Satisfied)

Happiness “”If you were to consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are?” (1 = Very unhappy; 5 = Very happy)

Other

Female 0 = Male; 1 = Female

Age Years

Education 0 = No Schooling; 1 = Elementary School; 2 = Middle School; 3 = High School; 4 = 2-year College; 5 = Bachelor’s Degree; 6 = Master’s Degree; 7 = Doctoral Degree

Family income (Monthly) 0 = No Income; 1 = Less than 500,000 Won; 2 = 500,000 Won-990,000 Won; 3 = 1,000,000 Won-1,490,000 Won; 4 = 1,500,000 Won-1,990,000 Won; 5 = 2,000,000 Won-2,490,000 Won; 6 = 2,500,000 Won-2,990,000 Won; 7 = 3,000,000 Won-3,490,000 Won; 8 = 3,500,000 Won-3,990,000 Won; 9 = 4,000,000 Won-4,490,000 Won; 10 = 4,500,000 Won-4,990,000 Won; 11 = 5,000,000 Won-5,490,000 Won; 12 = 5,500,000 Won-5,990,000 Won; 13 = 6,000,000 Won-6,490,000 Won; 14 = 6,500,000 Won-6,990,000 Won; 15 = 7,000,000 Won-7,490,000 Won; 16 = 7,500,000 Won-7,990,000 Won; 17 = 8,000,000 Won-8,490,000 Won; 18 = 8,500,000 Won-8,900,000 Won; 19 = 9,000,000 Won-9,490,000 Won; 20 = 9,500,000 Won-9,990,000 Won; 21 = More than 10,000,000 Won (Approximately 1 USD = 1,200 Won)

Trust 1 = Can’t be too careful in dealing with people; 2 = Depends; 3 = Most people can be trusted

Financial Satisfaction 1 = Very dissatisfied; 2 = Somewhat dissatisfied; 3 = Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied; 4 = Somewhat Satisfied; 5 = Very satisfied

Health 1 = Poor; 2 = Fair; 3 = Good; 4 = Very Good; 5 = Excellent

Political Ideology 1 = Very Liberal; 2 = Somewhat Liberal; 3 = Moderate; 4 = Somewhat Conservative; 5 = Very Conservative

Political Participation 0 = None; 1 = Participated in At Least One Mode of Political Activity (among voting, signing petition, boycotting, participating in demonstration, attending political meeting, contacting politician, contacting media, donating, and joining Internet forum)

Attend Church or Temple 1 = Never; 2 = Once for a few years; 3 = Once per year; 4 = A few times per year; 5 = Once per month; 6 = A few time per month; 7 = Once per week; 8 = A few times per week

Employment Status (Dummies) Employed (reference category); Student; Homemaker; Retired; Unemployed

Marital Status (Dummies) Married; Widowed; Separated or Divorced; Never Married (reference category)

Appendix B

See Table 4.

Table 4 Summary statistics of the variables included in the models

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ha, S.E., Kim, S. Personality and Subjective Well-Being: Evidence from South Korea. Soc Indic Res 111, 341–359 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-012-0009-9

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-012-0009-9

Keywords

  • Personality
  • The “Big Five”
  • Subjective well-being
  • Happiness
  • Life satisfaction
  • South Korea