Social Indicators Research

, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 885–905 | Cite as

Subjective Well-Being in China: Associations with Absolute, Relative, and Perceived Economic Circumstances

  • Nicholas OtisEmail author


Numerous studies examining the impact of income on subjective well-being (SWB) have found significant positive relationships exhibiting decreasing marginal returns. However, the impact of economic circumstances on SWB is better captured through a combination of income, wealth (per capita net worth), and perceived and relative economic conditions. Using data from the Chinese Household Income Project, I find that within rural and urban China, wealth significantly predicts SWB, exhibiting decreasing marginal returns independent of more common measures of economic circumstances such as income and occupational status. Within urban China, these associations decrease in magnitude and significance with the addition of objective relative measures of wealth and income. Finally, I find that subjective perceptions of relative standard of living are strongly associated with SWB independent of other measures. These results highlight the importance of using multiple objective and subjective measures of economic circumstances, demonstrating potential limitations of studies that have focused exclusively on income as a predictor of well-being. Results are interpreted within the context of China’s changing social and economic structure.


Subjective well-being Wealth China Income Relative deprivation Happiness 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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