Subjective Well Being and Culture
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Subjective Well Being and CultureDr. James H. LiuCentre for Applied Cross Cultural ResearchVictoria University of Wellington
DEFINITION OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING (SWB)SWB is defined by Diener & Diener (1995) as a persons evaluative reactions to his or her life, either in terms of life satisfaction (cognitive evaluations) or affect (ongoing emotional reactions like happiness and unhappiness).Diener and his colleagues (1999) represent the American mainstream view of SWB. They acknowledge cultural differences in SWB, but claim that these do not alter the fundamental nature of the construct or its predictors. They counter culture specific claims by arguing that SWB is multifaceted.
OVERVIEW: Factors that Impact SWB
Demographic factors (age, sex, income, race, education and marital status) accounted for only 8%, 15%, and 20% the variance in SWB in studies in the USA and UK. Their effects may be mediated by psychological processes.
Personality Effects on SWBPersonality factors: Genetics: in twin studies by Tellegen et al. (1998), monozygotic twins raised in different homes were more similar than dizygotic twins raised together or apart. Tellegen et al. estimated that genes account for 40% of the variance in positive and 55% of the variance in negative emotionality, compared to 22% and 2% for shared family environment. These estimates are compromised by the fact that twins reared apart tend to be placed in similar types of homes, and that smaller estimates have been found in other studies. It is aggregated levels of emotion that are stable.
More personalityExtraversion: Among the Big 5, extraversion is strongly correlated with positive affect, and neuroticism with negative affect. Unfortunately, all these studies have been conducted in Western societies.
Coping StylesSocial comparison: is a flexible process and is not determined by proximity or accessibility of others. It can be used as a coping strategy: for example, Lyubomirsky & Ross (1997) found that happy people tended to make downward comparisons, and unhappy people compared both up and down. McFarland & Miller (1994) found that nondepressives and optimists focuses on the number of people who performed worse than themselves, whereas depressives and pessimists focused on the number of people who did better than them..(What would happen in Japan?)
Stress & CopingAdaptation and Coping: Recent events have more impact, but people adapt quickly. Positive affect predominated over negative affect 8 weeks after a spinal cord injury according to Silver (1982). But even after 2 years, people widowed showed higher levels of depression than non-bereaved. Spiritual beliefs, positive reappraisal, and problem focused coping have all been found to be related to higher SWB among HIV caregivers.
Different strokes for diff folksGoals: Resources such as income and attractiveness contribute to SWB more for people whose important goals in life are relevant to these assets. Similarly, students with achievement values felt better on days when they did well in school, and people with strong social values felt better on days they had a more satisfying interpersonal life.
Differential weighting as an approach to CC VariationBecause peoples goals are likely to differ substantially across cultures, what is important for happiness in one culture may be less important in another. This does not mean that the construct of happiness does not exist in these cultures: it simply means that different aspects of life are weighted differently (p. 285, Diener et al., 1999).
Culture and SWBDeiner+Deiner predicted and found that the correlation between self-esteem & life satisfaction varies across cultures, with stronger correlations in individualistic cultures (r=.52 between IND and Z(r)). Satisfaction with friends (but not family) was more important to overall SWB in collectivist countries (r=.55). Income predicts SWB better in poor countries (r=-.33)At the country level, income is likely to be a powerful predictor of SWB because of the immense differences in the ability of people to achieve their goals across cultures (imagine if you were among the 140 million people in China who make less that $77US/yearwould you be satisfied with life?).
Individual level correlations of SWB by country
Country level correlations between income and SWB
Little Correlation at the individual level between SWB & IncomeThe same is NOT true at the individual level within nations, where the correlation between income and SWB in the US, for example, is .12. To equate country-level findings with individual level findings is called the ecological fallacy. Different causal factors operate between cultures vs. between individuals within a culture.
Why money at the individual level doesnt correlate with SWB
Individualism and SWBAcross nations D+D+D (1995) found that income, human rights, equality, and individualism are positively related to SWB. Individualism is the strongest and most consistent predictor after controlling for the other factors.There were no significant effects or inconsistent effects for cultural heterogeneity, income growth, or negative social comparison with neighbouring countries.
Country level Raw Data
Country level correlations I
Country level correlates of SWB
Country level partial correlates of SWB