A Gallup poll shows Chinese per capita income rising, but life satisfaction… not so much. When asked how they would rate their lives, Chinese respondents place toward the bottom of countries in East and Southeast Asia, averaging just below a 5, stuck in the middle of the proverbial “ladder” in life (where they would like to reach the top). Even though income has risen, it seems satisfaction with where they are hasn’t changed in a decade.
But does money buy happiness?
Steve Crabtree and Tao Wu postulate that purchasing power hasn’t increased, so the Chinese assessments of their own lives haven’t changed. They mention the “hedonic treadmill,” a process by which aspirations tend to increase along with income: people who have more tend to want more. Once basic needs are met, consumers use discretionary spending to further the pursuit of happiness. And with limited discretionary income, Chinese consumers feel good about their living standards, but aren’t happy.
More than 200 million Chinese consumers will enter the middle class in the next decade, and discretionary income should increase considerably. So the question is, will this lead to happiness? Or does China’s authoritarian government, among the worst violators of civil liberties in the world, need to undergo more fundamental changes in its domestic policies before its citizens feel they are where they want to be in life?