People in Historically Rice-Farming Areas are Less Happy and Socially Compare More than People in Wheat-Farming Areas

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2022

96 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2023

See all articles by Cheol-Sung Lee

Cheol-Sung Lee

Sogang University

Thomas Talhelm

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Xiawei Dong

Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)

Date Written: November 9, 2022

Abstract

Using two nationally representative surveys, we find that people in China's historically rice-farming areas are less happy than people in wheat areas. This is a puzzle because the rice area is more interdependent, and relationships are an important predictor of happiness. We explore how the interdependence of historical rice farming may have paradoxically undermined happiness by creating more social comparison than wheat farming. We build a framework in which rice farming leads to social comparison, which makes people unhappy (especially people who are worse off). If people in rice areas socially compare more, then people’s happiness in rice areas should be more closely related to markers of social status like income. In two studies, national survey data shows that income, self-reported social status, and occupational status predict people's happiness twice as strongly in rice areas than wheat areas. In Study 3, we use a unique natural experiment comparing two nearby state farms that effectively randomly assigned people to farm rice or wheat. The rice farmers socially compare more, and farmers who socially compare more are less happy. If interdependence breeds social comparison and erodes happiness, it could help explain the paradox of why the interdependent cultures of East Asia are less happy than similarly wealthy cultures.

Keywords: Rice, subsistence style, social comparison, happiness, subjective well-being, culture, China

Suggested Citation

Lee, Cheol-Sung and Talhelm, Thomas and Dong, Xiawei, People in Historically Rice-Farming Areas are Less Happy and Socially Compare More than People in Wheat-Farming Areas (November 9, 2022). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4273025 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4273025

Cheol-Sung Lee

Sogang University ( email )

Seoul 121-742
Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

Thomas Talhelm (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 South Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.chicagobooth.edu/faculty/directory/t/thomas-talhelm

Xiawei Dong

Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) ( email )

52 Sanlihe Rd.
Datun Road, Anwai
Beijing, Xicheng District 100864
China

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