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Survey shows widespread happiness among Chinese

ZOU YUCHUN, ZHANG BIN and ZHANG DAN | 2020-09-30 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A large number of residents perform in a square dancing competition themed “Healthy China, Happy Dance” in Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan Province. Residents’ happiness is an important indicator to measure whether the xiaokang society is achieved. Photo: CHINANEWS.COM 

The year 2020 will mark the completion of the building of a xiaokang, or a moderately prosperous society in all respects, in China. In an article published in the Qiushi journal in June this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, pointed out that whether the xiaokang target is attained depends not only on quantitative indicators, but also on the people’s real life quality and sense of gain, or fulfillment. The building of the xiaokang society aims to meet people’s aspiration for a good life and endow them with a stronger sense of gain, happiness and security. 
Today, residents’ happiness is an important indicator to measure whether the xiaokang society is achieved. Particularly after the Chinese economy has shifted from high-speed growth to high-quality development, how happy Chinese residents are is a focus of attention for all citizens. This article is based on the Chinese Social Survey finished at the end of 2019, hereinafter referred to as CSS2019. 
A biennial survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the CSS covers 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities across China, including 151 cities, counties and districts, and 604 village or neighborhood committees. Each time 7,000 to 10,000 households are randomly sampled for interviews, with respondents’ age ranging from 18 to 69.  
Widespread happiness 
Data from the CSS2019 shows that 83.78% of the respondents chose the options “strongly agree” and “moderately agree” to the statement “I am generally a happy person,” up 8.28 percentage points from the CSS2013 data.
If those with the “strongly agree” and “moderately agree” attitudes are classified as residents with a strong sense of happiness, or happy residents, and those who “moderately disagree” and “strongly disagree” are unhappy, or residents with a weak sense of happiness, it can be assumed that the ratio of happy residents aged between 18 and 69 is growing in recent years, while the size of the unhappy group is dwindling. 
According to the survey, happy residents exhibit a more positive social mentality, social evaluation and social participation than the less happy cohort.
First, residents who have high levels of subjective well-being place more trust in all levels of government and think more positively of society. In the survey, 96.34% of the respondents from the happy group said they trusted the central government, 78.45% reported trust in governments on the district and county levels, and village-level governments garnered trust from 70.59% of the happy respondents. The ratios are all higher than those of the surveyed residents with a weak sense of happiness, which stood at 90.81%-61.49% and 52.52%, respectively. When it comes to the overall evaluation of society, happy residents scored 7.47 on average on a scale of 0-10, much higher than 6.56 of their unhappy counterparts.
Moreover, happy residents have a stronger national identity. 94.18% of the surveyed residents with higher subjective well-being agreed with the statement “I often feel proud of achievements made by our nation,” while the figure for less happy residents was 88.34%. Regarding the statement “I would still be willing to be Chinese if there were a next life,” 98.21% of the happy camp expressed agreement, roughly 3 percentage points higher than the other group. 
In addition, happy residents participate more in social and political affairs. Take village and neighborhood elections as an example. 32.85% of the surveyed residents with a strong sense of happiness had participated in local elections, higher than the ratio of 27.70% among their opposites. In terms of volunteer service, 26.59% of the happy group said they had provided volunteer services, 4.48 percentage points higher than the less happy respondents. 
Factors that matter
First of all, marital status and the degree of education influenced residents’ subjective well-being. According to the survey, happy residents accounted for 84.41% of the married group, higher than the rate (81.17%) of unmarried residents. Therefore, marriage has a bearing on the enhancement of happiness. 
As to the degree of education, the survey shows that 92.96% of the postgraduate respondents felt happy, whereas 90.53% of the surveyed undergraduates, 86.92% of the senior high school group and 81.80% of the junior high respondents felt that way. The rate is the lowest for the group that had never attended school, at 80.09%. It can be seen that the higher the education one receives, the higher the probability is that they will be happy. 
Also the number of children affects the happiness of their parents, and families with only one child were reportedly the happiest. According to the survey, 85.17% of the surveyed one-child parents were happy, followed by parents with multiple children, with a rate of 82.39%. Childless parents were the least happy, with unhappy residents accounting for 81.68%. This suggests that children are a determinant of parents’ subjective well-being, but increasing the number of children will not necessarily lead to a stronger sense of happiness, which might be a result of mounting life pressure brought by high childrearing costs. 
Furthermore, it was found that family income level has a significant positive correlation with the happiness of residents. The surveyed households were divided into five groups, and the ratios of happy residents in the groups, from high to low, went in the order: high-income group (91.43%), medium-high-income group (87.81%), middle-income group (83.01%), medium-low-income group (79.58%), and low-income group (75.84%). The sense of happiness grows with family incomes. 
Whether residents work in government bodies or publicly run organizations and whether they use the internet likewise matter to their happiness. According to the survey, 89.80% of the surveyed workers in government or public institutions displayed a strong sense of happiness, higher than 84.19% of those working in organizations otherwise. Additionally, happy residents accounted for 85.33% of those using the internet, while 80.76% of non-internet-users were happy. 
Regional disparities
Regionally, in developed areas, such as the northern and eastern parts of China, residents showed a higher subjective well-being. The rates of happy residents in the six major regions were sequenced, from high to low, as follows: North China (88.41%), East China (85.66%), Northeast China (83.33%), Central and South China (81.74%), Southwest China (81.65%) and Northwest China (80.98%). 
From the urban-rural perspective, urban residents have a stronger sense of happiness. If the respondents are categorized into urban and rural residents, happy residents took up 85.31% of the urban group, higher than 81.74% of their rural counterparts in the survey. 
In terms of environmental conditions, the cleaner the environment is, the happier the residents are. Based on their evaluation of environmental conditions, the respondents could be divided into residents dissatisfied with the environment, who scored 1-5 on a scale from 1 to 10, and the satisfied group, who got a score of 6-10. According to the survey, 86.45% of people who were satisfied with the environment considered themselves happy, and 76.63% of people who were dissatisfied with the environment were happy.  
On the whole, the Chinese people have a strong sense of happiness, evidently stronger than in 2013. Happy residents perform more positively in social mentality, social evaluation and social participation. However, residents’ subjective well-being also varies for socioeconomic and social support factors. To make the Chinese people even happier, the following suggestions are proposed:
First, efforts should be intensified to balance regional development, to ensure a strong sense of happiness in more residents. The survey indicates that the low-income group is less happy than high-income earners. Urban-rural and regional disparities in happiness are very likely to result from long-standing imbalanced economic development. Governments of all levels should update their development philosophies to promote quick and beneficial economic growth in rural areas and western regions, thereby rectifying the imbalance and compensating for residents’ lower happiness levels to the greatest extent. 
It is essential to raise residents’ income and lower marriage and childrearing costs. The survey shows that getting married and having children are both conducive to making residents happier. Nowadays high marriage and childrearing costs have affected residents’ desire to marry and give birth to children. The government should release practical, effective policies to stabilize prices, especially regulating and strictly controlling the property market to stabilize housing prices and provide housing guarantees, thus creating a friendly social environment for residents to get married and have children, strengthening their sense of happiness. 
What’s more, attention should be paid to improving the quality of the environment and internet infrastructure. According to the survey, local environmental quality and internet usage are both inseparable from residents’ subjective well-being. The government should practice green development principles in economic development, while encouraging residents to rationally use the internet and continuously upgrade internet infrastructure to narrow the digital divide. 
Last but not least, the environment for business should be optimized to facilitate the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. The survey implies that residents who work outside of government offices and public institutions have a weaker sense of happiness, which might be attributed to higher work pressure and risks in private organizations. The government should give non-public enterprises, particularly small and medium-sized firms more attention and stronger policy support, in order to advance the sustained and healthy development of small and medium-sized enterprises, and enhance the happiness of all residents involved. 
Zou Yuchun, Zhang Bin and Zhang Dan are from the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.