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Are the Chinese happier than they were 20 years ago?

Tourists look at skyscrapers at Pudong New Development Zone, one of the most popular tourist sites in Shanghai, China, July of 2006. (AP/ Eugene Hoshiko)

After two decades of rapid economic growth, people in China aren’t necessarily happier than they were 20 years ago. At least that’s what a recent economic study found. Better economic conditions haven’t really affected  middle-income earners and the poor have become significantly more unhappy. Worldview contributor Robert Price has been living in Shanghai for the past several years. He’s noticed money’s effect on the city—on its business community, its infrastructure, and his rent! Worldview asked Price to share his personal perspective on the relationship between money and happiness in China. Luckily, he’s been in town for the NATO summit.

Economist Betsey Stevenson has also looked at the relationship between money and happiness—though her assertions stray from popularized theory. For decades, economists have looked to what’s called the Easterlin paradox when examining the relationship between money and happiness. In the mid-1970s, economist Richard Easterlin looked at post-war Japan in the 1970s. As the country experienced massive growth and Japanese citizens became wealthier, Easterlin found that strangely, people were not happier. Easterlin also happens to be the lead researcher behind the recent China study. But Stevenson, an assistant professor of public policy at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, asserts the relationship is more complicated.

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