National differences in reported subjective well-being: Why do they occur?

Ed Diener, Eunkook M. Suh, Heidi Smith, Liang Shao

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296 Citations (Scopus)


There are marked variations between nations in reported subjective well-being (SWB), but the explanations for this diversity have not been fully explored. It is possible that the differences are entirely due to true variability in SWB, but it is also reasonable that the differences may be due to factors related to self-report measurement such as variation across nations in whether it is desirable to say one is happy. At a substantive level, there might be differences in the norms governing the experience of emotion such that cultural differences in SWB are due to affective regulation. Pacific Rim countries (e.g., Japan, the People's Republic of China, and S. Korea) appear to have lower SWB than their material circumstances warrant, and the U.S.A. has higher SWB than is predicted based on its income per person. The genesis of these differences was explored by comparing students in S. Korea, Japan, and the People's Republic of China to students in the U.S.A., and it was concluded that: (1) The Pacific Rim subjects score lower on both happiness and life satisfaction in both absolute terms and when income is controlled, (2) There probably is not a general negative response set in the Pacific Rim which causes lower SWB, as evidenced by the fact that the Asians express dissatisfaction in some areas (e.g., education and self) but not in other areas (e.g., social relationships), (3) Artifacts are not causing the lower reported SWB, (4) The general suppression of mood in the Pacific Rim is unlikely to be the cause of SWB differences, but Chinese students do appear to avoid negative affect, (5) SWB is no less important and salient in Japan and S. Korea, but does appear to be a less central concern in China, and (6) There are different patterns of well-being depending on whether life satisfaction or hedonic balance are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-32
Number of pages26
JournalSocial Indicators Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1995 Jan

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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