Relative Income, Relative Assets, and Happiness in Urban China

Jin Huang, Shiyou Wu, Suo Deng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Does more money always mean that people are happier with their lives? To test the social comparison hypothesis as applied to happiness, this study uses survey data from the 2002 Chinese Household Income Project to examine the association between household economic resources and happiness in urban China. Household economic resources are measured as both income and assets (e.g., net worth and net worth minus home equity). In addition, the analyses include measures of relative income and relative assets. Results of ordinary least square regression analysis show a positive association of absolute income with the happiness score whereas relative income is negatively associated with happiness. Although household assets are a significant and positive predictor of self-assessments of happiness, measures of relative household assets do not correlate with happiness. Study findings suggest the level of happiness among urban populations could be increased through policies that promote pro-poor growth and equal distribution of economic resources. In addition, introducing asset-building policies as supplements to other social assistance programs may promote happiness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)971-985
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Indicators Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Assets
  • Happiness
  • Income
  • Life satisfaction
  • Relative assets
  • Relative income

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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