The importance of individuals’ social environment as an explanation for the ‘happiness-income paradox’, but also accounting for the negative relationship between income inequality and subjective well-being in macro-comparative perspective is now widely recognized. At the same time, however, debates are still ongoing about the specific role local communities play in moderating the relationship between personal income and subjective well-being. This article adds to this literature by examining cross-level interactions between individual- and district-level determinants of self-rated happiness using multilevel mixed regression techniques. Our findings suggest that living in wealthier districts in Hong Kong is a ‘positive’ for individuals on lower personal incomes, whereas the effect on those with higher incomes is more in line with arguments underlining the role of local communities as a ‘negative’. While the overall effect of district-level poverty on self-reported happiness in Hong Kong is benign, this is not the case for individuals on low incomes who are most negatively affected if they live in districts featuring higher levels of deprivation. Governments across contemporary Asian global cities should recognize the important role of citizens’ social environment and tackle existing structural barriers to greater self-reported happiness accordingly.
Bibliographical noteThe research for this paper was funded by a Lingnan University Seed Fund as part of the project: The Well-being of Young People during Their Transition into Work and Adulthood. We are indebted to Professor Lok Sang Ho, Chu Hai College of Higher Education, who made his online LIFE Happiness Survey data available. Sing Yi Luk provided invaluable research support. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers of the Journal of Asian Public Policy and attendants of the 14th East Asian Social Policy Research Network Annual Conference (Nagoya University, Japan, 2nd-3 August 2017) for expert advice and suggestions. All remaining errors remain our own.
- social comparison
- spatial inequality
- urban spaces
- Hong Kong