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The China Puzzle: Falling Happiness in a Rising Economy

Brockmann, H., J. Delhey, C. Welzel & H. Yuan (2009). “The China Puzzle: Falling Happiness in a Rising Economy.” Journal of Happiness Studies 10:387-405.

19 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2014  

Hilke Brockmann

Jacobs University Bremen

Jan Delhey

University of Bremen - School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Christian Welzel

Leuphana University of Lueneburg; LCSR

Hao Yuan

University of Bremen - Graduate School of Social Sciences (GSSS)

Date Written: February 6, 2008

Abstract

Over the 1990-2000 decade happiness in China plummeted despite massive improvement in material living standards. This finding contradicts the notion that income growth at low living standards leads to gains, not losses, in happiness. We explain this puzzle by drawing on a specific version of relative deprivation theory, the concept of "frustrated achievers." Our major finding is that income inequality in China became increasingly skewed towards the upper income strata, so that related to the average income the financial position of most Chinese worsened. Consequently, financial dissatisfaction rose and became an increasingly important factor in depressing happiness. Other negative feelings emerging with rapid transitions, such as anomie and disaffection, show a less depressive effect on Chinese happiness. We conclude with some speculations about the applicability of our findings to transition economies in general.

Keywords: Happiness, Life satisfaction, Relative deprivation, Inequality, Income, Transition economies, Market economy

Suggested Citation

Brockmann, Hilke and Delhey, Jan and Welzel, Christian and Yuan, Hao, The China Puzzle: Falling Happiness in a Rising Economy (February 6, 2008). Brockmann, H., J. Delhey, C. Welzel & H. Yuan (2009). “The China Puzzle: Falling Happiness in a Rising Economy.” Journal of Happiness Studies 10:387-405.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2391703

Hilke Brockmann

Jacobs University Bremen ( email )

Campus Ring 1
Bremen, 28725
Germany

Jan Delhey

University of Bremen - School of Humanities and Social Sciences ( email )

Universitaetsallee GW I
Bremen, D-28334
Germany
+49 421 200 3492 (Phone)
+49 421 200 3303 (Fax)

Christian Welzel (Contact Author)

Leuphana University of Lueneburg ( email )

Scharnhorststraße 1
Lüneburg, 21335
Germany

LCSR ( email )

Myasnitskaya street, 20
Moscow, Moscow 119017
Russia

Hao Yuan

University of Bremen - Graduate School of Social Sciences (GSSS)

Bremen, 28334
Germany

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