Social context affects people’s life satisfaction because it provides a natural reference for evaluating their own socioeconomic standing. Given their reference role, social contexts operationalized by space versus time may have very different implications. Our hypothesis is that spatial variation in economic development has little impact on life satisfaction as individuals living in different locales are unlikely to experience this variation personally, but that short-term temporal changes in economic development, on the other hand, do have an impact, as individuals in a given locale experience these changes directly. These two very different implications of spatial versus temporal social contexts are tested with an analysis of repeated survey data in 60 counties of China from 2005 to 2010. The results show that life satisfaction does not vary much with regional differences in economic development but responds positively to the local level of economic development over time. That is, the contextual effects of economic development vary greatly depending on how social context is operationalized. Temporal context matters far more than regional context where individuals’ life satisfaction is concerned.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Contextual effects
- Economic development
- Life satisfaction
- Multi-level analysis