Economic Growth Raises Happiness in China Since 1990s

Chinese Academy of Sciences

China has experienced rapid economic growth over the past decades. Materially speaking, the life of Chinese people has become better and better. Psychologically, have Chinese become happier? This remains a question that has perplexed scholars from various fields. While cross-sectional analyses consistently reflect that higher income is associated with higher happiness, cross-temporal studies have produced mixed findings. The question remains: does economic growth raise happiness in China?

A research team led by Dr. CAI Huajian from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has recently conducted a comprehensive reexamination on how Chinese happiness has changed over the past decades and the potential role of economic growth. And they found an upward trend of Chinese happiness since 1990. Moreover, economic growth is the Granger cause of the increase in Chinese happiness.

The researchers used a large amount of data from different sources for the comprehensive reexamination. They used all available survey data covering from 1990 to 2018 and demonstrated a significant quadratic U-shaped trend and a rising tendency (Left).

In addition, they conducted a cross-temporal meta-analysis on all published studies from 2001 to 2019 and found that Chinese happiness manifested a linear rising trend (Right), though this trend was more salient in the community sample than the previous one.

Taken together, economic growth is beneficial for Chinese happiness even after controlling for shifts in income inequality, unemployment and social insurance. Most importantly, economic growth substantially contributes to the increase in Chinese happiness.

This study provides strong support that economic growth has raised happiness in China since 1990, particularly since 2001. Economic growth is beneficial for Chinese happiness.

Results have been published in a paper in Social Psychological and Personality Science entitled “Does economic growth raise happiness in China? A comprehensive reexamination“. This work is supported by the National Social Science Fund of China.

Left. U-shaped trend; Right. A linear rising trend. (Image by Dr. YANG Ziyan)

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