Social Indicators Research

, Volume 114, Issue 2, pp 441–451 | Cite as

The Pursuit of Happiness in China: Individualism, Collectivism, and Subjective Well-Being During China’s Economic and Social Transformation

  • Liza G. Steele
  • Scott M. Lynch


This paper examines the consequences of China’s dramatic socioeconomic and political transformations for individual subjective well-being (SWB) from 1990 to 2007. Although many still consider China to be a collectivist country, and some scholars have argued that collectivist factors would be important predictors of individual well-being in such a context, our analysis demonstrates that the Chinese are increasingly prioritizing individualist factors in assessments of their own happiness and life satisfaction thus substantiating descriptions of their society as increasingly individualistic. While the vast majority of quality of life studies have focused on Westerners, this study contributes findings from the unique cultural context of China. Moreover, concentration on this particular period in Chinese history offers insight into the relationship between SWB and rapid socioeconomic and political change.


Subjective well-being Happiness Life satisfaction China Individualism Collectivism Countries in transition 



The authors would like to thank Martin Ruef and Gilbert Rozman for providing invaluable comments on early drafts of this paper. We are also grateful for the constructive suggestions from the SIR editor and anonymous reviewers. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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