China is facing a mysterious happiness crisis amid booming wealth and education

China is facing a mysterious happiness crisis amid booming wealth and education

(CHINA OUT) A Rolls-Royce representative leads a customer to the opening ceremony of a new Rolls-Royce showroom on September 25, 2007 in Shanghai, China. China has now overtaken Japan to become the largest market for the luxury British Rolls-Royce brand in Asia, and the third in the world. In 2006 over 40 of the luxury sedan were sold in Chinese mainland.

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In the past 25 years, China's real GDP has exploded, but citizens aren't any happier.

  • Chinese happiness is probably less than it was in 1990.
  • China's real GDP has increased by 5 over the same timeframe.
  • China's mini-welfare state of the early 1990's gave citizens a safety net that broke shortly after.

In the past 25 years, China's real GDP has exploded.

By 2012 almost all Chinese urban households owned a color TV, washing machine, and refrigerator, and GDP had increased had increased by a multiple of 5, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report, an annual ranking by the United Nation's Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

But despite an increase in affluence, people in China seem to be less happy today than they were in 1990, according to the report, which looks to data from different surveys of "subjective well-being."

The authors point to a decrease in the social safety net. In 1990, although poor, the Chinese labor market was described as an "iron rice bowl" - a mini welfare state where families felt safe. They didn't worry about their job security or the ability that they would have employment in the future.


Citizens "were essentially guaranteed life-time jobs and had benefits that included subsidized food, housing, health care, child care, and pensions, as well as assurance of jobs for their grown children," the authors of the report wrote.

In the 1990's that bowl was smashed as unemployment rose and citizens worried about their future. Lower income and older Chinese were among those the hardest hit.

By the mid-2000's the decline discontinued, but Chinese happiness is still probably less than it was 25 years ago.

The authors noted that while policy makers sometimes use GDP as a measure of societal enjoyment, it's only one indicator and often doesn't tell the full story.

"GDP relates to the economic aspect of life, and to just one dimension-the output of goods and services," they wrote.