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Gender Differences in Happiness and Life Satisfaction Among Adolescents in Hong Kong: Relationships and Self-Concept

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This study uses survey data from adolescents (N = 1,428) in Hong Kong to test the association of gender with happiness and life satisfaction through relationship style and self-concept. While self-esteem and purpose in life are associated with higher happiness and life satisfaction, having more close friends is related to higher happiness, but not necessarily life satisfaction. On the other hand, boys with higher academic achievement are happier, but not more satisfied; the opposite holds true for girls. Our results provide a much-needed investigation of the differential effect of gender on the subjective well-being of adolescents. Contributing to the theoretical debate about the concepts of subjective well-being, we argue that happiness and life satisfaction are empirically and conceptually distinct. Life satisfaction might be characterized by more profound enjoyment and achievement in life than happiness.
1 23
Social Indicators Research
An International and Interdisciplinary
Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement
ISSN 0303-8300
Volume 125
Number 3
Soc Indic Res (2016) 125:1035-1051
DOI 10.1007/s11205-015-0867-z
Gender Differences in Happiness and Life
Satisfaction Among Adolescents in Hong
Kong: Relationships and Self-Concept
Wing Hong Chui & Mathew Y.H.Wong
1 23
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Gender Differences in Happiness and Life Satisfaction
Among Adolescents in Hong Kong: Relationships
and Self-Concept
Wing Hong Chui Mathew Y. H. Wong
Accepted: 7 January 2015 / Published online: 14 January 2015
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
Abstract This study uses survey data from adolescents (N=1,428) in Hong Kong to test
the association of gender with happiness and life satisfaction through relationship style and
self-concept. While self-esteem and purpose in life are associated with higher happiness and
life satisfaction, having more close friends is related to higher happiness, but not necessarily
life satisfaction. On the other hand, boys with higher academic achievement are happier, but
not more satisfied; the opposite holds true for girls. Our results provide a much-needed
investigation of the differential effect of gender on the subjective well-being of adolescents.
Contributing to the theoretical debate about the concepts of subjective well-being, we argue
that happiness and life satisfaction are empirically and conceptually distinct. Life satisfaction
might be characterized by more profound enjoyment and achievement in life than happiness.
Keywords Adolescents Gender Happiness Life satisfaction Self-esteem
Purpose in life
1 Introduction
Adolescence has long been regarded as a period of emotional upheaval (e.g., Erikson
1968). Subjective well-being during this stage of psychological and physical growth is a
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11205-015-0867-z)
contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
W. H. Chui (&)
Department of Applied Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon Tong,
Hong Kong SAR
e-mail: eric.chui@cityu.edu.hk
M. Y. H. Wong
Department of Politics and Public Administration, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam,
Hong Kong SAR
e-mail: yhmwong@hku.hk
123
Soc Indic Res (2016) 125:1035–1051
DOI 10.1007/s11205-015-0867-z
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topic of great theoretical and practical importance. Through this study, we aim to gain a
better understanding of the subjective well-being of adolescents in Hong Kong. This study
aims to show that there are important gender-related differences underlying the process in
relation to how boys and girls perceive social relationships and themselves. In addition, we
seek to contribute to the discussion regarding the concept of subjective well-being, in
particular concerning the differences between happiness and life satisfaction, as well as
comparing and contrasting factors that contribute to them.
Happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being are interrelated concepts about one’s quality of
life (Phillips 2006). Earlier works viewed affective and cognitive components as factors of life
satisfaction (for a review, see Cummins 2013). Building on this, Diener et al. (1985) suggested
a model with three separable (but related) components to capture subjective well-being:
positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction. The model was later further expanded
into four components (Diener et al. 2004), within which happiness is regarded as a ‘‘pleasant
emotion’’—an affective, short-lived reaction tied to specific events. It is also popularly
defined as ‘‘the frequent experience of positive emotions over time’’ (Lyubomirsky et al.
2005, p. 806). Life satisfaction, on the other hand, refers to one’s ongoing evaluation of the
conditions of life as a whole, which presumably requires cognitive processing. Some scholars
also try to differentiate the two by comparing the horizon of happiness and life satisfaction.
1
This study investigates how the affective and cognitive domains of well-being are related.
Namely, summarizing the above perspectives, we argue that happiness is an immediate, short-
term, temporary and retrospective mental state, whereas life satisfaction is a relatively long-
term judgment of life conditions, which could be backward- or forward-looking. By adopting
this stance, in the words of Diener et al. (2004, p. 205), there is an acknowledged possibility that
a person ‘‘can be satisfied with one’s life, and yet experience little pleasant affect, and vice
versa.’’ While the exact theoretical underpinning of the relationship between happiness and life
satisfaction might be subject to debate (for a review, see Vitterso 2013), this study will work
with this distinction. Further discussions on this point can be found in the concluding section.
It is further noted that the association between affective and cognitive well-being (in
this case, between happiness and life satisfaction) is not perfect and will vary across
samples (e.g., Diener et al. 2004). In this study, we will demonstrate that the two concepts
are affected by different factors, and that the factors are gender-specific (Eckermann 2000).
1.1 Gender and Subjective Well-Being
Demographic variables, including gender, are sometimes seen as weak predictors of
happiness (Diener et al. 1999; see also Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter 2003). With regards to
adolescents specifically, the findings have also been inconclusive. While Goldbeck et al.
(2007) reported a lower life satisfaction for girls as compared to boys, this being congruent
with some other studies on gender effects (e.g., Moksnes and Espnes 2013), a branch of
literature argues no differences in the level of subjective well-being across gender (Casas
et al. 2007; Froh et al. 2009; Huebner et al. 2004).
Even if we accept the proposition that gender has no direct association with happiness
and well-being, such results do not rule out the possibility that gender might condition the
effect of other variables; that is, the process of subjective well-being formation is different
between boys and girls. For example, Thayer et al. (1994) found that women rely on social
1
Wnuk et al. (2012, p. 465) make a similar distinction by defining happiness as a cognitive balance between
one’s desire and passion for life as well as evaluation of life up to now, and evaluation of life in recent days.
Meanwhile, life satisfaction consists of three perspectives: past, present, and future.
1036 W. H. Chui, M. Y. H. Wong
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support more frequently to overcome negative moods. Similarly, although Tkach and
Lyubomirsky (2006) found that men and women were equally happy, they uncovered
gender differences in the use of happiness-enhancing strategies. These differences can also
be attributed to the different domains of life satisfaction. Girls are more satisfied than boys
in learning and family and friends, and the opposite is true in physical activities, culmi-
nating in no significant difference in overall life satisfaction (Casas et al. 2007). Such
gender differences in subjective well-being will next be developed further.
1.2 Effects of Relationships and Self-Concept Across Gender
In one of the theoretical perspectives discussed by Brody and Hall (2008), gender differences in
emotions can be attributed to socialization, which leads women to display emotions related to
their traditional gender roles such as social bonding. To explore the role of gender in shaping
adolescents’ subjective well-being, this study focuses on self-concept and relationship differ-
ences between boys and girls. The terminology is borrowed from Leung and Zhang (2000), who
focus on explaining life satisfaction in adolescents (similarly, Kwan et al. 1997 use self-esteem
and relationship harmony as mediating variables to explain life satisfaction with samples from
the US and Hong Kong). In line with a collection of studies on gender differences, family and
other interpersonal ties relationships should link to females’ happiness and life satisfaction,
whereas feelings of achievement (self-concept) might be more related to the well-being of males.
1.2.1 Relationships
Good social relationships are considered a necessary component to subjective well-being
(Diener and Seligman 2002). Two main domains of relationships are investigated here:
family and friends. While parents usually exert greater social control over daughters
(Lopez 2003), it is less clear whether this could lead to greater family conflict (Bui 2009)
or greater family closeness. Shek (1997,1998) found that family functioning and rela-
tionships with parents greatly influence junior high school students’ psychological well-
being. Similarly, Leung and Leung (1992) argue that the parent–adolescent relationship is
the primary determinant of life satisfaction. Therefore, it is obvious that the role of family
is crucial in the subjective well-being of adolescents.
In the process of socialization for adolescents, peers are another important group which
may complement, or even overtake the role of family in their development (Gonzalez et al.
2014; Hartup 1983). When adolescents choose to engage in sharing about themselves, girls
tend to reveal more about themselves to friends than boys do. They also receive greater
social support from friends than do boys (for a review, see Gonzalez et al. 2014). In
addition, while it is generally accepted that females place a greater emphasis on family and
social domains, perhaps surprisingly, Feliciano (2012) found that boys have a higher focus
on family relationships. Feliciano suggests that boys’ more negative peer experience at
school is the reason behind this. In this study, we assess how the number of close friends
and family structure (in particular, the respondents’ parents’ marital status and whether the
respondent has siblings) is associated with the subjective well-being of adolescents.
1.2.2 Self-Concept
Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter (2003) argue that positive feelings about oneself and social
ties are the strongest predictors of happiness, among other factors. Besides socialization
Gender Differences in Happiness and Life Satisfaction 1037
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with family and friends, people’s well-being naturally depends a great deal on their self-
perception. This study focuses on respondents’ academic achievement, self-esteem, and
purpose in life as the three indicators of self-concept.
Specifically for adolescents, we hypothesize that their experience at school—which is a
crucial part of adolescents’ lives—is important in determining their ability to feel positive
about life. It is generally accepted that women outperform men academically, as seen in
college admissions and degree attainment (e.g., Buchmann and DiPrete 2006; Feliciano
and Rumbaut 2005). In the US, numerous studies have documented boys’ negative
experience towards the environment and personnel at school (e.g., Lopez 2003; Watkins
and Melde 2010), which could be a reason behind their lower academic performance
(Feliciano 2012). Oishi et al. (1999) argue that achievement-oriented individuals largely
judge their life satisfaction based on their performance in achievement domains. However,
much less is known about whether academic achievements are associated with cognitive or
affective well-being indicators, or whether boys are more likely to be achievement-ori-
ented. This study will address these questions.
The second self-concept indicator is self-esteem. Self-esteem is usually defined as ‘‘a
person’s appraisal of his or her value’’ (Leary and Baumeister 2000, p. 2), which relates
directly to the concept of self. It affects how adolescents behave in society, especially in
educational institutions (Rosenberg 1965). It is also generally believed that self-esteem has
a considerable impact on happiness (Baumeister et al. 2003; Cheng and Furnham 2003)
and life satisfaction (Kwan et al. 1997; Moksnes and Espnes 2013).
Finally, according to McKnight and Kashdan (2009), purpose in life is a cognitive
process that defines one’s life goals and provides personal meaning. Purpose in life is
regarded as a component of self-concept as finding a meaning in life allows a person to
affirm self-worth and establish his/her identity (Baumeister and Vohs 2009; McAdams
1996). For example, McAdams (1996) suggests that the task of writing a life story can
establish personal identity through a reflection on one’s purpose in life. This demonstrates
that the existence of purpose might be crucial in the construction of self-concept. Purpose
is generally found to lead to a healthier psychological profile, especially among youth
(Shek 1993). Since purpose in life involves aspects of both the good life and the mean-
ingful life (Bronk et al. 2009), studies have found that purpose in life is associated with
happiness (Wnuk et al. 2012) and life satisfaction (Wnuk et al. 2012; especially during
adolescence and emerging adulthood, see Bronk et al. 2009).
1.3 The Role of Culture in Subjective Well-Being
Researchers have also found cultural differences in subjective well-being (for a review, see
Diener et al. 2009). One study found that Hong Kong adolescents reported much lower life
satisfaction relative to adolescents in the US (Kwan 2010), which might be due to the
individualistic-collectivistic cultural divide (Diener et al. 2009) or the tendency of Asians
to avoid upper end responses (Cummins 2013). Through an investigation of the strength of
self-concept and relationships factors, which represent individualistic and collectivistic
factors respectively, this study also aims to contribute to the discussion of the role of
culture in subjective well-being. In addition, some comprehensive studies on young peo-
ple’s life satisfaction in Hong Kong discuss the role of gender only marginally, without
including it in their main models (e.g., Chang et al. 2003). In this respect, the current study
can provide a much-needed comprehensive study of adolescents in Hong Kong that focuses
on gender differences.
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2 Methods
2.1 Study Design
The survey was conducted with the assistance of a non-governmental organization, which
specializes in delivering social work services to secondary schools and forms a close
network with a number of schools in Hong Kong. A total of 1,830 respondents aged
between 10 and 19 from nine primary and secondary schools were reached through school
personnel and administrators (the average response rate was approximately 88 %). The
number of available observations was then limited to 1,428 in the analysis after removing
participants with missing data.
2
Prior to the research, ethical approval was obtained from the Human Research Ethics
Committee for Non-Clinical Faculties at the University of Hong Kong. Informed consent
was also distributed and collected from the principals of the participating schools and the
parents of the participants. Before completing the questionnaire, all participants were given
a consent form that informed them of, among other things, the anonymity of the survey.
Their participation was entirely voluntary, and they could withdraw at any time. During the
administration of the survey, peer-to-peer discussion was not allowed.
2.2 Measures
2.2.1 Happiness
Happiness was measured using the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (Hills and Argyle
2002, Chinese translation by Hsieh 2012) consisting of 29 items.
3
Respondents are asked
how much they agree, on a 6-point scale (from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree) with
statements such as ‘‘I often experience joy and elation,’’ ‘‘I feel I have a great deal of
energy,’’ and ‘‘I find beauty in some things.’’ Total scores range from 29 to 174, with
higher numbers indicating greater happiness. In this study, the Cronbach’s alpha for this
group of questions was 0.91.
2
Because composite measures are created for happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and purpose in life,
any one missing response for these concepts would result in an incomplete observation, dropping that
participant from the analysis. However, the excluded observations were largely comparable with the
included group. Most importantly for our causal arguments, the null hypothesis that the pattern of miss-
ingness is not associated with gender cannot be rejected at conventional levels of significance (p=0.207).
With the exception of age, which is expected, the same can be said for the main variables in this study
(happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, purpose in life, academic achievement, no. of close friends, par-
ents’ marital status, and siblings).
3
It is acknowledged that the scale used here has been criticized in the literature for., among other things, its
lack of conceptual clarity and structure (Cummins 2013; Kashdan 2004). According to Kashdan (2004), the
Oxford Happiness Questionnaire mainly overlaps with the concepts of self-esteem and sense of purpose,
which might be affecting the findings. Cummins (2013, p. 195) suggests that a single question can be a
viable measurement of happiness. To ensure robustness, we have tried to use agreement to the statement ‘‘I
am very happy’’ as an alternative measurement of happiness. Similar results can be obtained (results
available upon request). Perhaps importantly, the effects of self-esteem and purpose in life did not change.
Additionally, a considerable number of recent studies still utilize the scale to capture happiness under a
range of contexts (e.g., Holder et al. 2010; Wei et al. 2011). While this is surely not a good reason to accept a
flawed measure (Cummins 2013), unfortunately we have to leave the problem of measurements as an
improvement in future studies. Further discussion regarding this point can be found in Sect. 4. We would
like to thank an anonymous reviewer for highlighting this point.
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2.2.2 Life Satisfaction
We used the ‘‘satisfaction with life’’ scale developed by Diener et al. (1985). The scale has
been found to apply well in the context of Hong Kong (Shek et al. 2006; Sun and Shek
2010; see also Chui and Chan 2013; Kwok et al. 2013). The scale asks respondents to rate
their agreement with five items on a 7-point scale (from Strongly Disagree to Strongly
Agree with middle category labeled Neither Agree Nor Disagree), such as ‘‘I am satisfied
with my life’’ and ‘‘In most ways my life is close to my ideal.’’ The overall scale thus
ranges from 5 (low satisfaction) to 35 (high satisfaction). The Cronbach’s alpha for this
group of questions was 0.88.
2.2.3 Relationships: Number of Close Friends, Parents’ Marital Status, and Siblings
Respondents were asked to report their number of close friends (excluding family and girl/
boyfriends) whom they would share feelings with. Answers could take any value from 0 to
10 (or above). Regarding parents’ marital status, respondents were allowed to choose from
the following options: married, separated, divorced, and other. In the analysis below, we
use a dummy variable to represent whether the respondents’ parents are married
(1 =married; 0 =otherwise). Finally, to further capture the social circle surrounding
adolescents, besides parents and close friends, we expect that siblings might provide
another source of relationship satisfaction. This variable is also coded dichotomously
(1 =has sibling; 0 =no sibling).
2.2.4 Self-Concept: Academic Satisfaction, Purpose in Life, and Self-Esteem
Respondents were asked to evaluate their satisfaction with their own academic performance.
The responses were coded on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from (1) very dissatisfied to (5)
very satisfied, with a higher score indicating higher satisfaction. It is not uncommon to use a
single indicator for measuring specific domains of life satisfaction including academic sat-
isfaction (e.g., Xiao et al. 2009). In addition, similar results can also be obtained if we use an
alternative measure combining academic satisfaction with self-reported academic perfor-
mance, which should minimize the errors with the use of a single indicator.
4
Following Crumbaugh (1968) and Shek (1988), the Purpose in Life Questionnaire
consists of five factors: quality of life, meaning of existence, death, choice, and retirement.
The survey uses 20 questions to capture the concept. On a 7-point scale (with four labeled
Neutral), higher scores indicate a higher sense of purpose. The Cronbach’s alpha for this
batch of questions was 0.93.
The commonly used Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale uses ten items to assess participants’
perception of self-value and self-acceptance (Rosenberg 1965). Responses are recorded on
a 4-point scale (from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree). Higher scores represent higher
self-esteem (see, for example, Chui and Chan 2013 for a recent use of this scale in the
Chinese context). The Cronbach’s alpha in our study was 0.82.
4
Results are available upon request. Unfortunately, there is no centralized public examination until the end
of high school in Hong Kong. As respondents come from nine different schools, objective and comparable
evaluations about their academic performance are not available. It is also noted that there is evidence that
academic satisfaction is directly influenced by academic results (Xiao et al. 2009).
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2.2.5 Other Personal Background
To better explain happiness and life satisfaction, we also include several demographic
variables. The regression models below include age, ethnicity (1 =Chinese; 0 =other),
religion (1 =reported a religion; 0 =otherwise). Age is included as a control as sub-
jective well-being is expected to decrease during adolescence (e.g., Casas et al. 2007;
Goldbeck et al. 2007). Religiosity may also be positively associated with life satisfaction
(Diener and Clifton 2002), although the reported size of the effect is allegedly quite small.
Finally, as there is a cultural dimension in our discussion of subjective well-being, we
accounted for whether the respondent is an ethnic Chinese.
2.3 Procedure
To compare gender differences in the development of happiness and life satisfaction, we
begin by reporting the correlations of the main variables. This is followed by ordinary least
squares regression analyses, in which happiness and life satisfaction are dependent vari-
ables. To test the research question, the analyses will be presented in two stages. First,
hierarchical models will be used to illustrate the results with the inclusion of background,
relationship, and self-concept variables. Second, three models will be presented for each
indicator: one model for each gender in addition to the pooled model. This will allow us to
look at the mean effect and compare the gender-specific effects. The analysis below was
conducted with the STATA 12.0 statistical package.
3 Results
3.1 Characteristics of the Sample
As noted above, this study included 1,428 teenagers aged 10–19. The sample was 47 %
male and 53 % female, which is representative of the demographic profile of Hong Kong
(46.7 % male; Census and Statistics Department 2012). Descriptive statistics of the main
variables by gender, differences across gender, and size effects are shown in Table 1.
Although girls appeared to have a higher purpose in life and higher academic satisfaction
on average, the differences in the average values of the two measures of well-being
(happiness and life satisfaction) were not significant. Therefore, it is argued that the
gender-related effects we demonstrate below do not arise from pre-existing differences in
our sample of respondents.
3.1.1 Correlation of the Main Variables
Table 2shows the correlations between our main variables.
5
As discussed above, although
happiness and life satisfaction are similar concepts of subjective well-being, they only
correlated at 0.56, demonstrating a considerable amount of uncorrelated variation. This
preliminary finding reinforces the need to separately investigate the two measures. On the
other hand, happiness correlated with purpose in life at 0.72 and self-esteem at 0.66
respectively. Although the correlations were slightly lower for life satisfaction, this
5
Correlation figures by gender can be found in the online appendix, available at the journal website. The
figures are very similar across the two gender groups for the main variables.
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confirms our expectation that these two positive self-concept attributes have high
explanatory power on subjective well-being. In line with the descriptive statistics above,
gender did not correlate significantly with happiness or life satisfaction. Finally, the
number of close friends and academic achievement also demonstrated a robust positive
correlation with psychological well-being. The precise form of the relationship between
these factors will be explored next.
3.2 Hierarchical Regression Models
Table 3presents the hierarchical regression results for happiness and life satisfaction. As
noted, background factors are entered in the first stage, followed by relationships variables
and finally self-concept ones. The results were very similar for both measures of subjective
well-being. Age was significant and negative in the first stage, hinting at a drop in subjective
well-being as respondents reach late-adolescence. In the second step, the only consistent
predictor of well-being was the number of close friends. Perhaps as expected, the more
intimate peer-to-peer connections an adolescent can form, the better is his/her well-being.
In the third step, it can be seen that self-concept as a whole was a very strong predictor of
subjective well-being, both statistically and substantively. All of the three factors (academic
satisfaction, self-esteem, and purpose in life) were significant and positive in explaining hap-
piness and life satisfaction. Based on the results so far, self-concept variables can be considered
the strongest predicators of well-being, with the partial exception of age and number of close
friends. It was observed that gender was not significant in the first stage of these models.
However, it may have become significant once the full model was used and all relevant factors
were controlled for. In addition, as discussed above, even if gender did not exert a significant
effect, it may have been the case that the underlying pattern of subjective well-being formation is
different for boys and girls. These possibilities will be explored in the next section.
6
Table 1 Descriptive statistics by gender
Female
(N =757)
Male
(N =671)
Difference Ttest/Chi
square
Effect size
(Cohen’s
d/Cramer’s V)
Mean SD Mean SD
Age 14.23 1.88 14.06 1.56 0.17 2.08* 0.10
Happiness 111.01 18.4 109.68 19.31 1.34 1.28 0.07
Life satisfaction 24.12 6.01 23.64 6.00 0.48 1.68 0.08
Self-esteem 26.99 4.4 27.1 4.57 0.11 0.52 0.03
Purpose in life 93.79 20.35 91.19 20.26 2.60 2.67** 0.13
Academic satisfaction 5.88 1.73 5.52 1.91 0.36 2.59** 0.12
No. of close friends 4.57 2.93 5.3 3.58 -0.72 -4.68** -0.22
Siblings (%) 79.80 % 67.60 % 12.20 % 34.58** 0.14
Parents’ marital status (%) 87.00 % 90.30 % -3.30 % 4.85* -0.05
** p\0.01; * p\0.05 (two-tailed student ttest for continuous variables, and two-tailed Chi square test for
dichotomous variables)
6
Results from moderation tests with interaction terms between gender and other explanatory variables are
consistent with those in the pooled models below and are largely significant. However, as the interpretation
of the results are less straightforward, the results are presented in the online appendix.
1042 W. H. Chui, M. Y. H. Wong
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Table 2 Correlations between main variables
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)
(1) Life satisfaction
(2) Happiness 0.56**
(3) Purpose in life 0.50** 0.72**
(4) Self-esteem 0.45** 0.66** 0.56**
(5) No. of close friends 0.23** 0.30** 0.30** 0.27**
(6) Siblings -0.03 0.00 -0.04 0.00 -0.01
(7) Parents’ marital status 0.07* 0.04 0.02 0.04 0.00 0.07*
(8) Academic satisfaction 0.30** 0.40** 0.36** 0.42** 0.20** -0.04 0.06*
(9) Age -0.18** -0.15** -0.13** -0.13** -0.14** 0.05 -0.01 -2.22**
(10) Gender 0.00 0.04 0.02 -0.13** -0.15** -0.11** -0.06* -0.09** 0.08**
** p\0.01; * p\0.05
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3.3 Tests of the Effects of Gender on Subjective Well-Being
In Table 4, a total of six models are shown. In the first three models, happiness was used as
the dependent variable. Relationships (number of close friends, siblings, and parents’
marital status), self-concept (academic achievement, self-esteem, and purpose in life), and
background factors were inserted as independent variables. Male and female respondents
were pooled together in the first model and separated in the second and third. The exercise
was then repeated for life satisfaction in the last three models.
Starting with background factors less relevant to our arguments, religion was unrelated
to happiness, but was found to contribute positively to the level of life satisfaction
(p\0.05 in the pooled and female model). Ethnicity, on the other hand, provided some
puzzling results. As compared to ethnic Chinese, our minority groups were characterized
by a lower level of happiness (significant at p\0.01) and a higher level of life satisfaction
(significant at p\0.05).
Although happiness and life satisfaction were not statistically different for boys and
girls on average (Table 1), after controlling for other factors, the coefficient for gender was
positive and significant in the first model in Table 4. This shows that girls are happier than
boys, all else equal. While this might be contradictory to the results in the above section, it
is noted that the effect of gender was only insignificant prior to the inclusion of rela-
tionships and self-concept factors. In line with descriptive statistics and correlation figures,
gender was found to be associated with happiness once the effects were isolated. Boys also
become less happy as they entered their late adolescence, while the effect of age was not
significant for girls. Among the relationship variables, only the number of close friends was
found to be significant in all specifications. However, this factor was much more signifi-
cant—both statistically and in terms of effect size—for females than males. The estimate
Table 3 Hierarchical regression analysis of happiness and life satisfaction
Happiness Life satisfaction
BSEbFR
2
BSEbFR
2
Step 1
Gender 1.75 1.10 0.05 8.70 0.03 0.27 0.34 0.02 10.97 0.03
Age -1.77 0.33 -0.16** -0.50 0.09 -0.14**
Religion (Y) 0.41 1.12 0.01 0.58 0.32 0.05
Ethnicity-Chinese -8.28 4.98 -0.05 -0.75 0.44 -0.05*
Step 2
No. of close
friends
1.65 0.16 0.29** 21.00 0.11 0.35 0.05 0.19** 15.55 0.06
Siblings 0.10 1.16 0.00 -0.06 0.35 -0.00
Parents’ marital
status
1.76 1.63 0.03 1.19 0.47 0.06*
Step 3
Academic
satisfaction
1.03 0.38 0.06** 186.07 0.63 0.49 0.15 0.09** 65.25 0.31
Self-esteem 1.51 0.10 0.36** 0.31 0.04 0.24**
Purpose in life 0.45 0.02 0.47** 0.09 0.01 0.31**
** p\0.01; * p\0.05
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Table 4 Regression analysis of happiness and life satisfaction by gender group
Dependent variable sample Happiness Life satisfaction
All Male Female All Male Female
BbBbBbBbBbBb
Background
Gender (1 =female) 3.31 0.09** 0.54 0.05
Age -0.39 -0.03 -0.61 -0.05* -0.08 -0.01 -0.24 -0.07** -0.20 -0.05 -0.28 -0.09**
Religion (Y) 0.38 0.01 0.74 0.02 -0.03 -0.00 0.59 0.05* 0.43 0.03 0.74 0.06*
Ethnicity-Chinese -8.68 -0.05** -8.51 -0.05* -7.69 -0.04 0.98 0.06* 1.44 0.03 1.19 0.09**
Relationships
No. of close friends 0.40 0.07** 0.27 0.05* 0.67 0.10** 0.09 0.05* 0.11 0.07 0.07 0.03
Siblings 0.38 0.01 0.92 0.02 -0.42 -0.01 -0.20 -0.01 -0.02 -0.00 -0.41 -0.03
Parents’ marital status 0.42 0.01 -2.71 -0.04 3.42 0.07* 0.74 0.04 0.05 0.00 1.26 0.07*
Self-concept
Academic satisfaction 1.03 0.06** 1.34 0.08** 0.71 0.04 0.49 0.09** 0.33 0.06 0.66 0.12**
Self-esteem 1.51 0.36** 1.55 0.37** 1.44 0.34** 0.31 0.24** 0.24 0.19** 0.38 0.28**
Purpose in life 0.45 0.47** 0.45 0.47** 0.45 0.48** 0.09 0.31** 0.11 0.36** 0.08 0.26**
R
2
0.63 0.65 0.61 0.31 0.30 0.32
** p\0.01; * p\0.05
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of the size of the coefficient among females was about two times that of males, with
significance levels of 0.01 versus 0.05. In addition, parents’ marital status was associated
with happiness among girls (p\0.05) but not among boys.
On the other hand, all three self-concept variables carried some power in explaining
happiness. As expected, self-esteem and purpose in life were positively associated with
happiness in all models. The fact that the effect size and significance levels were similar in
the male and female regressions suggests that there are minimal gender differences. The
same cannot be said about academic satisfaction, which was significant for males
(p\0.01) but not for females. The size of the coefficient for the group of boys also
doubled that of girls.
We now turn our focus to the determinants of life satisfaction (the three models on the
right in Table 4). Unlike happiness, after controlling for relationships and self-concept
variables, there was no gender difference in the average level of life satisfaction. Girls were
less satisfied with their lives as they grew up, while the same effect for boys was not
significant. The relationship variables did not fare well in explaining life satisfaction. Only
the number of close friends in the pooled model and parents’ marital status for girls were
significant (p\0.05 for both). While the lack of an effect for parents’ marital status in
explaining subjective well-being demonstrated above might be surprising, the models by
gender here showed that this is only the case for boys. Girls with married parents did
indeed have higher happiness and life satisfaction (p\0.05 for both). This finding is
consistent with our expectation that girls’ subjective well-being should depend more on
social relationships than boys.
Similar to the case of happiness above, self-concept factors were more strongly asso-
ciated with life satisfaction than relationship factors. Self-esteem and purpose in life were,
again, positive and significant in all specifications with no observable gender difference.
However, academic achievement was only significantly related to higher satisfaction for
girls. The effect was not significant for boys, which is the exact opposite of the case of
happiness above.
As our sample covered respondents from a wide age range (10–19), we further explored
whether age moderates the effects of other variables in the process. We performed pooled
regressions on happiness and life satisfaction by dividing our sample into two even-sized
groups (cut-off at age 14), and the results of academic satisfaction seem to be conditioned
by age. Academic satisfaction was significantly associated with happiness and life satis-
faction only for the older group. However, an interaction term age 9academic satisfaction
was not found to be significant in a full model. Other interaction terms of age (included one
at a time) also did not yield significant results. Relevant results can be found in the
electronic supplementary materials.
In sum, comparing the results across genders, we can conclude that relationships factors
(the number of close friends and parents’ marital status) seem to matter much more for the
happiness of females. While relationships variables do not appear to carry great weight in
determining adolescents’ life satisfaction, parents’ marital status for, female respondents,
stand out as a notable exception. It is interesting to see that the number of close friends is
significantly associated with happiness, but not life satisfaction.
On the other hand, self-esteem and purpose in life appear to be important factors of
subjective well-being for all adolescents. Higher academic satisfaction may only leads to
higher happiness for boys but not for girls. Conversely, academic satisfaction matters for
the life satisfaction for females but not for males. It is perhaps noteworthy that academic
satisfaction is significantly associated with happiness for boys and life satisfaction for girls,
but not the other way round.
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4 Discussion
This study examined subjective well-being of adolescents with a particular focus on the
role of gender. By looking at happiness and life satisfaction among adolescents in Hong
Kong, we compare the effect of self-concept and relationship constructs. As self-concept
and relationship constructs are both important for predicting adolescents’ happiness and
life satisfaction (Leung and Zhang 2000), we believe our two-category model of well-being
can satisfactorily explain happiness and life satisfaction in this age group. A major strength
in this study is the large sample size, which allows us to establish fairly strong results. It
also enhances reliability by minimizing the influences of potential random errors in self-
reporting, especially among adolescents.
Our results confirm several prior notions while delivering some surprises. From the
hierarchical models (and partially in pooled models), it was confirmed that subjective well-
being might decrease as respondents reach late-adolescence, which is in line with some
other studies (e.g., Casas et al. 2007; Goldbeck et al. 2007). A rather surprising finding was
the insignificant effect of parents’ marital status. Given the substantial literature on the role
of family, especially parents, in the development of adolescents, its weak effect warrants
further investigation. On the other hand, self-esteem and purpose in life consistently
predicted subjective well-being. The number of close friends was a strong predictor of
happiness for both sexes, though the effect was stronger for females. However, having
more friends did not seem to increase life satisfaction. Parents’ marital status was found to
be associated with girls’ subjective well-being, but the corresponding effect was absent for
boys. While relationships factors were in general weaker than self-concept ones in
explaining subjective well-being, we can still observe that girls place a greater emphasis on
them. Interestingly, higher academic satisfaction made teenage boys happier, but not more
satisfied with their life. On the other hand, higher academic satisfaction made girls more
satisfied with their life, but not happier. With this set of results, we believe we have firmly
established the gender-specific nature of subjective well-being.
Without further data, we speculate that some of the results can be explained with the
concepts of happiness and life satisfaction discussed at the start of the paper. Happiness
might be a short-term measure of temporary contentment while life satisfaction could be
more profound and long-term. Having more friends, in this case, can bring joy and hap-
piness to adolescents, but perhaps does not add to the sense of life satisfaction. Adoles-
cents, regardless of gender, report higher happiness when they have more friends, but this
does not seem to lead to higher satisfaction in life (at least not significantly/consistently
so). Similarly, girls might see a good academic performance as an end that can allow them
to pursue a more successful and satisfied life in the future. In contrast, boys treat academic
achievement as an achievement in its own right, which is a means to happiness. Of course,
further research must be done to test the preliminary ideas offered here.
This study also contributes to the discussion of the components of subjective well-being.
It is expected that adolescents should derive a large part of their life satisfaction through
academic and relationship issues. However, our results show that the exact relationship
depends on the measurement (happiness or life satisfaction) and gender. First, having more
friends has different impacts on one’s happiness and satisfaction. Second, academic sat-
isfaction does not always lead to a higher subjective well-being—it could affect happiness
and life satisfaction differently depending on gender. This finding is in line with Diener
et al. (2000) argument that global life satisfaction is not necessarily the sum of domain-
specific satisfactions.
Gender Differences in Happiness and Life Satisfaction 1047
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Although this study only focuses on one society, it also carries implications regarding
the relationship between culture and subjective well-being. Self-concept is found to be
more strongly associated with life satisfaction in individualistic cultures than in collec-
tivistic ones, while the opposite holds for relationship harmony and social support (e.g.,
Diener and Diener 1995; Kwan et al. 1997). Similarly, East Asians feel happier when their
interdependent selfhood is affirmed, as opposed to the affirmation of independent selfhood
among European Americans (Kitayama and Markus 2000). Our results call for a more
careful handling of the different factors of well-being across cultures. Even within a
cultural background (be it individualistic or collectivistic), it is possible for subjective
well-being to be determined more by self-concept or relationships depending on gender. At
the very least, these studies need place more consideration on the role of gender, as simply
controlling for gender may not be sufficient to uncover this kind of patterns (i.e., results of
the pooled models in Table 4).
Besides the wider cultural debate, our results can also shine light on the situation of
ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. To the best of our knowledge, there is virtually no
systematic or comparative research on the subjective well-being of minority groups in
Hong Kong. In our survey, non-Chinese in the region are reportedly less happy, yet
characterized by a higher level of life satisfaction. This can perhaps relate to our distinction
between the short-term nature of happiness and long-term nature of life satisfaction. Ethnic
minorities in Hong Kong usually come from a poorer background, have fewer opportu-
nities for education, and sometimes suffer from discrimination (Ku et al. 2003,2005).
While this might explain their short-term unhappiness, their cultural character might lead
them to be more positive in the long run. For example, in a study on ethnic adolescents,
72 % of them disagreed that they are ‘‘not as smart as Hong Kong Chinese students,’’ and
about 80 % of them agreed that they have ‘‘special qualities or abilities that local Chinese
students do not have’’ (Ku et al. 2005; unfortunately the study did not cover Chinese
students). This cultural difference might explain the difference in life satisfaction. How-
ever, our explanations should be considered exploratory given the lack of an established
literature in this area.
Our study is not without several limitations, one of them being its cross-sectional
design. This precludes the investigation of temporal dimension and stability of subjective
well-being. Although we surmise it to be rather unlikely, it may be the case that the causal
directions are opposite to what we suggested. For example, one can argue that our results
are actually the case that happier boys (and girls with a higher life satisfaction, but not the
others) do better at school and acquire a higher academic satisfaction. Therefore, our
findings have to be considered preliminary. They should hopefully be replicated in future
longitudinal studies focusing on the change in self-concepts, relationships, and subjective
well-being between boys and girls over time.
Another limitation lies in the measurement of academic satisfaction. While a one-
component measurement of domain-specific satisfaction might be acceptable (e.g., Xiao
et al. 2009), it could suffer from bias in self-reporting as well as other types of random
errors. Although we have tried to ensure the robustness of our results by using different
indicators of academic performance (see footnote 4 above), the lack of an objective
measurement for academic performance might be a concern. That being said, for large-
scale studies covering several schools, the lack of a comparative benchmark for students in
Hong Kong (no public examinations until the end of high school) is an obstacle for all
future researchers.
A final limitation of this study is the measurement of happiness. The shortcomings of
the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire as a measure of happiness have been recognized
1048 W. H. Chui, M. Y. H. Wong
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(Cummins 2013; Kashdan 2004; see footnote 3 for a discussion). As such, future studies
would do well to at least adopt additional scales of happiness to ensure the robustness of
the results. However, aside from the choice of measurement, the very concept of happiness
itself might also be a point of debate. In their four-component hierarchical model of
‘happiness’’ or subjective well-being, Diener et al. (2004, p. 71) categorize ‘‘happy’’ as a
sub-component under pleasant emotions. This is, of course, due to the lack of a dominant
definition of happiness, both among academics or in everyday conversation; it is thus
difficult to quantify whether we are measuring (even with a valid scale) happiness as a
general state of overall subjective well-being, or merely a sub-component of pleasant
emotions. Consequently, we cannot expect survey respondents to be aware of this subtle
distinction, as we cannot definitively pinpoint what their understanding of happiness is, and
it further remains unknown if and how any incongruences in their comprehension of this
construct would influence our results. This is a critical issue that researchers in the field can
hopefully address in future.
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... Meanwhile, self-concept clarity is also related to the mental resilience (Bigler et al., 2001). According to the previous study, having higher self-concept clarity was related to having higher self-esteem (Chui and Wong, 2016) and more positive emotions (Slotter and Walsh, 2017), which accounted for clearer self-concept that might led to happiness and higher life satisfaction. However, an individual with unclear self-concept may become lonely and dispirited and further influence life satisfaction (Watkins, 2008;Bastian et al., 2012). ...
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Self esteem has become a household word. Teachers, parents, therapists, and others have focused efforts on boosting self-esteem, on the assumption that high self-esteem will cause many positive outcomes and benefits-an assumption that is critically evaluated in this review. Appraisal of the effects of self-esteem is complicated by several factors. Because many people with high self-esteem exaggerate their successes and good traits, we emphasize objective measures of outcomes. High self-esteem is also a heterogeneous category, encompassing people who frankly accept their good qualities along with narcissistic, defensive, and conceited individuals. The modest correlations between self-esteem and school performance do not indicate that high self-esteem leads to good performance. Instead, high self-esteem is partly the result of good school performance. Efforts to boost the self-esteem of pupils have not been shown to improve academic performance and may sometimes be counterproductive. Job performance in adults is sometimes related to self-esteem, although the correlations, vary widely, and the direction of causality has not been established. Occupational success may boost self-esteem rather than the reverse. Alternatively, self-esteem may be helpful only in some job contexts. Laboratory studies have generally failed to find that self-esteem causes good task performance, with the important exception that high self-esteem facilitates persistence after failure. People high in self-esteem claim to be more likable and attractive, to have better relationships, and to make better impressions on others than people with low self-esteem, but objective measures disconfirm most of these beliefs. Narcissists are charming at first but tend to alienate others eventually. Self-esteem has not been shown to predict the quality or duration of relationships. High self-esteem makes people more willing to speak up in groups and to criticize the group's approach. Leadership does not stem directly from self-esteem, but self-esteem may have indirect effects. Relative, to people with low self-esteem, those with high self-esteem show stronger in-group favoritism, which may increase prejudice and discrimination. Neither high nor low self-esteem is a direct cause, of violence. Narcissism leads,to increased aggression in retaliation, for wounded pride. Low self-esteem may contribute to externalizing behavior and delinquency, although some studies have found that there are no effects or that the effect of self-esteem vanishes when other variables are controlled. The highest and. lowest rates of cheating and bullying are found in different subcategories of high self-esteem. Self-esteem has a strong relation to happiness. Although the research has not clearly established causation, we are persuaded that high self-esteem does lead to greater happiness., Low self-esteem is more likely than high to lead to depression under some circumstances. Some studies support the buffer hypothesis, which is that high self-esteem mitigates the effects of stress, but other studies come to the opposite conclusion, indicating that I the negative effects of low self-esteem are, mainly felt in good times. Still others find that high self-esteem leads to happier outcomes regardless of stress or other circumstances. High self-esteem does not prevent children from smoking, drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in early sex. If anything high self-esteem fosters experimentation, which may increase early sexual activity or drinking, but in general effects of self-esteem are negligible. One important exception is that high self-esteem reduces the chances of bulimia in females. Overall, the benefits of high self-esteem fall into two categories: enhanced initiative and pleasant feelings. We have not found evidence that boosting self-esteem (by therapeutic, interventions or school programs) causes benefits. Our findings do not support continued widespread efforts to boost self-esteem in the hope that it will by itself foster improved outcomes. In view of the heterogeneity of high self-esteem, indiscriminate praise might just as easily promote narcissism, with its less desirable consequences. Instead, we recommend using praise to boost self-esteem as a reward for socially desirable behavior and self-improvement.
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Perceptions and evaluations of a paired sample of girls aged 12–16 and their own mothers (N = 358) are analysed in relation to interactions, interpersonal communication and personal well-being related variables. The frequency with which adolescents and mothers share different daily activities is explored, as well as the frequency they talk about different topics (such as television, free time, sports, and family) with each other. A variety of variables related to personal well-being have been compared between girls and mothers. Girls and mothers were requested to evaluate their satisfaction with specific life domains (including the domains contained in Cummins et al.’s (Developing a national index of subjective well-being: The Australian Unity Well-being Index, Social Indicators Research 64:159–190, 2003) Personal Well-Being Index), and also with their life as a whole. Both mothers and daughters were also asked to what extent the girls themselves, and in the case of mothers, their own daughters, would like to be appreciated by other people at the age of 21 on a list of 23 values. The contribution of all these variables to explain satisfaction with life as a whole has been analysed separately for girls and mothers and, as expected, major differences emerge between generations. The results obtained suggest the existence of both “generational cultures” and “gendered cultures” (framed around gender stereotypes), especially in relation to the domains considered most satisfactory in life by girls and mothers, and also in the way they evaluate communication between them. Surprisingly, in both girls’ and mothers’ personal well-being, an impact of some perceptions and evaluations raised by the other member of the couple is observed, meaning that there is an intergenerational gender reference inside the family, which influences paired members of the same sex.