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Does Economic Growth Raise Happiness in China?


  • John Knight
  • Ramani Gunatilaka


Various measures of satisfaction with life or happiness in China appear not to have risen in recent years, despite China's remarkable growth of income per capita. The paper brings together and integrates the results of four papers by the authors to provide a methodologically and substantively innovative explanation for this paradox. The four papers are based on a cross-section national household survey relating to 2002 and containing questions on subjective well-being. Their findings help to explain the time-series evidence: they highlight the importance of relative income, rising urban insecurity, rapid urbanization, and changing reference groups in preventing happiness from rising with income.

Suggested Citation

  • John Knight & Ramani Gunatilaka, 2011. "Does Economic Growth Raise Happiness in China?," Oxford Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(1), pages 1-24.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:oxdevs:v:39:y:2011:i:1:p:1-24 DOI: 10.1080/13600818.2010.551006

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:eee:ecolec:v:137:y:2017:i:c:p:29-36 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Asadullah, Niaz & Xiao, Saizi & Yeoh, Emile Kok-Kheng, 2016. "Subjective Well-being in China, 2005-2010: The Role of Relative Income, Gender and Location," IZA Discussion Papers 9637, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Breinlich, Holger & Ottaviano, Gianmarco I.P. & Temple, Jonathan R.W., 2014. "Regional Growth and Regional Decline," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 4, pages 683-779 Elsevier.
    4. Fontaine, Xavier & Yamada, Katsunori, 2014. "Caste Comparisons in India: Evidence From Subjective Well-Being Data," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 407-419.
    5. van Landeghem, Bert & Vandeplas, Anneleen, 2017. "The Relationship between Status and Happiness: Evidence from the Caste System in Rural India," IZA Discussion Papers 11099, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Knight, John, 2013. "The economic causes and consequences of social instability in China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 25(C), pages 17-26.
    7. Edsel Beja, 2014. "Income growth and happiness: reassessment of the Easterlin Paradox," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 61(4), pages 329-346, December.
    8. Zhang, Xin & Zhang, Xiaobo & Chen, Xi, 2017. "Happiness in the air: How does a dirty sky affect mental health and subjective well-being?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 81-94.
    9. Bert Van Landeghem & Anneleen Vandeplas, 2016. "Lower in Rank, but Happier: The Complex Relationship between Status and Happiness," Working Papers id:11441, eSocialSciences.
    10. Mujcic, Redzo & Frijters, Paul, 2015. "Conspicuous consumption, conspicuous health, and optimal taxation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 59-70.
    11. Xavier Fontaine & Katsunori Yamada, 2012. "Economic Comparison and Group Identity: Lessons from India," PSE Working Papers hal-00711212, HAL.
    12. Liu, Zhiqiang & Shang, Qingyan, 2012. "Individual well-being in urban China: The role of income expectations," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(4), pages 833-849.
    13. Zhang, Xin & Zhang, Xiaobo & Chen, Xi, 2017. "Valuing Air Quality Using Happiness Data: The Case of China," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 29-36.
    14. Bartolini, Stefano & Sarracino, Francesco, 2015. "The Dark Side of Chinese Growth: Declining Social Capital and Well-Being in Times of Economic Boom," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 333-351.
    15. Vinod Mishra & Ingrid Nielsen & Russell Smyth, 2014. "How Does Relative Income and Variations in Short-Run Wellbeing Affect Wellbeing in the Long Run? Empirical Evidence From China’s Korean Minority," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 115(1), pages 67-91, January.
    16. Bert Van Landeghem & Anneleen Vandeplas, 2016. "Lower in rank, but happier: the complex relationship between status and happiness," LICOS Discussion Papers 38516, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.
    17. Jiayuan Li & John Raine, 2014. "The Time Trend of Life Satisfaction in China," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 116(2), pages 409-427, April.
    18. Rajan, Keertichandra & Kennedy, Jonathan & King, Lawrence, 2013. "Is wealthier always healthier in poor countries? The health implications of income, inequality, poverty, and literacy in India," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 98-107.
    19. repec:eee:enepol:v:108:y:2017:i:c:p:102-110 is not listed on IDEAS

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