A Modern Guide to the Economics of Happiness

Growth and happiness in China, 1990–2015

A. Easterlin, Richard / Wang, Fei / Wang, Shun(Author)

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In the past quarter century China’s real GDP per capita has multiplied over five times, an unprecedented feat. By 2012 virtually every urban household had, on average, a color TV, air conditioner, washing machine, and refrigerator. Almost nine in ten had a personal computer, and one in five, an automobile. Rural households lagged somewhat behind urban, but these same symptoms of affluence, which were virtually nonexistent in the countryside in 1990, had become quite common by 2012. In the face of such new-found plenitude, one would suppose that the population’s feelings of well-being would have enjoyed a similar multiplication. Yet, as will be discussed, well-being today is probably less than in 1990. This chapter, which builds on a prior study, describes the evolution of China’s well-being in the quarter century since 1990 and suggests the likely reasons for the disparate trajectories of subjective well-being (SWB) and GDP per capita (hereafter, simply GDP). The terms subjective well-being, life satisfaction, and happiness are used here interchangeably, and refer to people’s overall evaluation of their lives. The chapter also describes important differences in subjective well-being among various groups in the population and notes some possible reasons for these differences.

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Edward Elgar
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