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Life Satisfaction
Lorie Sousa and Sonja Lyubomirsky
University of California, Riverside
Reference: Sousa, L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Life satisfaction. In J. Worell
(Ed.), Encylopedia of women and gender: Sex similarities and differences and
the impact of society on gender (Vol. 2, pp. 667-676). . San Diego, CA:
Academic Press.
I. Definition of Life Satisfaction
II. Distinction From Related Constructs
III. Introduction
IV. Measurement
V. How Do People Make Life Satisfaction Judgments?
VI. What Determines Life Satisfaction?: Environment vs. Personality
VII. Demographic Variables As Predictors of Life Satisfaction
VIII. Future Directions
IX. Conclusions
Affect Experiences pertaining to feelings, emotion, or mood.
Cognitive The mental process of knowing, thinking, learning, and judging.
Collectivist Cultures Members of collectivist cultures (e.g., Japan, China,
Mexico) tend to value family, belonging, and the needs of the group.
Confounding Variable A variable that is so well correlated with the variable
of interest that it is difficult to determine whether differences or changes are
due to the variable of interest or to the confound.
Experience Sampling A method used to evaluate a participant’s experience,
mood, and/or behavior at a particular point in time. Experience sampling data
are generally collected over several days and participants are asked to record
their responses at the moment.
Individualist Cultures Members of individualist cultures (e.g., U.S., Western
Europe) tend to value individuality and independence.
Informant Data Data obtained from a significant other such as a mother,
father, spouse, or friend.
Internal Consistency Reliability of a measure determined by the
intercorrelations of the components or items of the measure.
Longitudinal Design A research design in which participants are evaluated
over a period of time.
Meta-Analysis A technique applied to summarize the literature in a particular
area and to investigate conflicting findings. This method involves gathering the
results from many studies on a specific topic to determine the average
comprehensive finding.
Objective Objective factors are those that are perceptible to the outside world
and can be evaluated by others.
Predictor A known variable that is used to predict a change in another
variable. For example, if one is interested in the extent to which exercise,
weight, and smoking are related to heart disease, then one might collect
information on the three predictor variables (i.e., exercise, weight, and
smoking), as well as on the outcome variable (i.e., disease). Such data will
presumably tell researchers something valuable about the potential influence of
exercise, weight, and smoking on the rate of disease.
Social Desirability Bias A bias reflected in participants altering their
responses based on their need for social approval. For example, a respondent
who is concerned with social approval may inflate her response to the
interview question, "Are you a happy person," because she does not wish to
appear sad or depressed to the interviewer.
Subjective Subjective factors are those that are perceived only by the affected
individual; they are not perceptible to the senses of another person.
Subjective Well-Being An evaluation of one’s life assessed by measures of
global life satisfaction, frequency of positive affect, and frequency of negative
SATISFACTION is a Latin word that means to make or do enough.
Satisfaction with one’s life implies a contentment with or acceptance of one’s
life circumstances, or the fulfillment of one’s wants and needs for one’s life as a
whole. In essence, life satisfaction is a subjective assessment of the quality of
one’s life. Because it is inherently an evaluation, judgments of life satisfaction
have a large cognitive component.
A. Life Satisfaction vs. Subjective Well-Being
According to Ed Diener and his colleagues (1999), subjective well-being,
or happiness, has both an affective (i.e., emotional) and a cognitive (i.e.,
judgmental) component. The affective component consists of how frequently
an individual reports experiencing positive and negative affect. Life satisfaction
is considered to be the cognitive component of this broader construct.
B. Life Satisfaction vs. Life-Domain Satisfaction
Researchers differentiate between life-domain satisfaction and life-as-a-
whole (or global) life satisfaction. Life-domain satisfaction refers to
satisfaction with specific areas of an individual’s life, such as work, marriage,
and income, whereas judgments of global life satisfaction are much more broad,
consisting of an individual’s comprehensive judgment of her life.
The success of a community or nation is frequently judged by objective
standards. Political parties often remind citizens of the prosperity of the
nation during their party’s governance as a method to encourage appreciation
and re-election. To persuade people that quality of life has improved under
their administration, they cite such factors as low unemployment rates, greater
income, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and improvements in education and
health care. The quality of life of the individual, however, cannot be quantified
in this manner. Indeed, objective measures of quality of life (i.e., income,
education) are often weakly related to people’s subjective self-reports of the
extent to which they are satisfied with their lives. For example, one might
predict that individuals who have suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury would
be significantly less satisfied with their lives than individuals who have not
suffered such an injury. However, empirical research has not supported this
contention -- in fact, disabled individuals do not report lower levels of
satisfaction than non-disabled ones. It is clear that a one-to-one relationship
between observable life circumstances and subjective judgments of life
satisfaction does not always exist.
A great deal of psychological research has explored the sources of
people’s life satisfaction. These sources include one’s overall wealth, whether
one is single or married, male or female, or young or old. Because most
researchers investigating the predictors of life satisfaction have not specifically
focused on the experiences of women, this review of the life satisfaction
literature will describe research conducted with both sexes. Fortunately,
however, the findings of many of these studies are directly relevant to women’s
lives. Life circumstances such as bearing and raising children, marriage,
poverty, and inequality all influence the life satisfaction of women, despite the
fact that studies of these factors have not necessarily been conducted with
women participants only or been specifically analyzed for gender differences.
Thus, this review will focus on life satisfaction in general but with women’s
lives and experiences in mind.
Before delving into the literature examining the factors related to life
satisfaction, it is important to discuss how life satisfaction is measured.
Researchers’ overwhelming choice for assessing life satisfaction is through self-
report. Self-report measures require respondents to indicate the extent to
which they are satisfied with their lives by selecting a symbol (i.e., a number or
a facial expression) on a rating scale (e.g., from 1 to 7). Because life satisfaction
is assumed to be a judgment, researchers believe that self-report is the most
direct and most accurate way to measure it.
A. Single-Item vs. Multi-Item Measures of Life Satisfaction
There are many self-report measures of life satisfaction. Some
measures consist of a single question, such as, “How satisfied with your life are
you overall?”, whereas other measures require participants to respond to
multiple items. Overall, researchers agree that multi-item scales of life
satisfaction are preferable to single-item scales. Although single-item scales
have adequate convergent validity (i.e., the scales correlate well with other
similar measures) and satisfactory reliability (i.e., the scale measures similarly
over time), only multiple-item scales allow for the assessment of internal
consistency, as well as the identification of errors associated with wording and
measurement. Additionally, Ed Diener (1984) has argued that multi-item scales
have demonstrated greater reliability and validity overall than single-item scales.
Furthermore, a meta-analysis conducted by Martin Pinquart and Silvia
Sorensen (2000) found that correlations between life satisfaction and variables
such as income, education, gender, and age are significantly reduced when
single-item, rather than multiple-item, scales are used. Researchers speculate
that single-item scales may be more susceptible to social desirability biases
than multiple-item ones because the latter request a wider range of information
with more specificity. Despite these concerns, however, single-item scales
have tended to correlate well with the multiple-item scales, so if an abridged
version is needed, single-item scales appear to be adequate. The most widely
used and most well-validated measure of life satisfaction is a multi-item scale,
the Satisfaction With Life Scale.
B. Satisfaction With Life Scale
The 5-item Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) was designed by Ed
Diener and his colleagues (1985) to measure global life satisfaction. Because
the authors consider life satisfaction as the cognitive component of subjective
well-being, they constructed this scale without reference to affect. The
language used for the scale items is relatively broad and nonspecific, allowing
the respondents to evaluate their overall life satisfaction subjectively.
The SWLS has been administered to many different groups of
participants and has been found to have high internal consistency and reliability
across gender, ethnicity, and age. This measure also has high convergent
validity – for example, it correlates well with clinical ratings of satisfaction, a
memory measure of satisfaction, and informant reports of satisfaction, as well
as with scales assessing self-esteem. The instructions for the SWLS ask
participants to rate the following five statements on 7-point Likert-type scales
(1 = strongly disagree, 4 = neither agree nor disagree, 7 = strongly agree):
_____ In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
_____ The conditions of my life are excellent.
_____ I am satisfied with my life.
_____ So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
_____ If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
C. Other Measures of Satisfaction
1. Hadley Cantril’s (1965) Self-Anchoring Scale
This is a single-item measure of life satisfaction, which instructs
participants to mark one rung on a ladder, with the top of the ladder labeled
“best life for you” and the bottom of the ladder labeled “worst possible life for
you,” to indicate their life satisfaction judgment.
2. Frank Andrews and Stephen Withey’s (1976) Delighted-Terrible Scale
This single-item scale requires participants to indicate their level of life
satisfaction by selecting one of seven faces ranging from a happy face (smiling,
delighted) to a sad face (frowning, terrible) in response to the question, “How
do you feel about your life as a whole?”
D. Potential Problems with Life Satisfaction Measurement
Several concerns have been raised regarding the validity of life
satisfaction measures. Critics have questioned whether people 1) are aware of
their levels of satisfaction, 2) inflate their responses to appear more satisfied
than they actually are, 3) confuse their own perceptions with how others
perceive them, and 4) interpret the questions differently depending on their
gender or their culture. Fortunately, each of these concerns appears to be
unfounded. First, participants rarely fail to respond to satisfaction questions
and they tend to answer such questions quickly, indicating that the extent to
which they are satisfied with life is something they are well aware of and think
about often. Second, as most life satisfaction assessments are conducted
anonymously, there is little reason to believe that social desirability effects are
greatly inflating people’s responses. Third, it is unlikely that respondents may
confuse their own perceptions with that of others because then one would
expect more affluent or better educated individuals to report much higher rates
of satisfaction than others of less means or education. This has not generally
been found. And, finally, because the SWLS is written in very general terms –
a procedure that allows each individual to define life satisfaction for themselves
– this widely-used life satisfaction scale appears to be gender and culture
neutral (see also Section VII.A.). For example, in a recent study, Kari Tucker
and colleagues found that the SWLS measures life satisfaction similarly for
females and males in two different cultures.
We know that most people are fully capable of rating the level of their
own life satisfaction. However, the question still remains, how exactly do
people make such judgments? The conceptualizations of life satisfaction
proposed by theorists in this area offer several clues. For example, Angus
Campbell and his colleagues (1976) conceptualized life satisfaction as the
difference between what one wants and what one has -- essentially, a
comparison between reality and the ideal. Thus, a woman’s judgment of her
life satisfaction involves drawing on her personal standards and expectations
for herself and assessing the extent to which her life measures up.
Alex Michalos’s Multiple-Discrepancy-Theory (1986) also specifies
how a woman might arrive at her personal level of satisfaction. According to
this theory, satisfaction is determined by one’s perceptions of “how things
are” vs. “how they should be.” Comparisons between how things are and what
one wants, what one had, what one expected, what others have, and what one
feels one deserves combine to determine life satisfaction. Small discrepancies
among these areas result in greater life satisfaction. Large discrepancies among
these areas result in greater life dissatisfaction. Michalos’s theory was
supported using a sample of nearly 700 undergraduate participants, fifty-four
percent of whom were women. Both women and men in his sample appeared
to derive global satisfaction in comparable ways.
Joseph Sirgy’s theory (1998) similarly mentions several comparisons
that women may consider before arriving at a judgment of their life satisfaction.
He suggests that expectations of what one is capable of accomplishing, one’s
past circumstances, one’s ideals, what one feels one deserves, what one
minimally requires to be content, and what one ultimately believes will occur
are comparisons that help determine overall life satisfaction.
Other researchers have investigated whether people determine their
personal estimates of their life satisfaction through a “top-down” or a “bottom-
up” approach. If a woman were to use a top-down procedure, she might reflect
on the value of her life as a whole, probe her sense or intuition for how happy
and satisfied she is overall, and, therefore, conclude that she must have a good
(or not-so-good) life. Alternatively, if she were to use a bottom-up approach,
she might think about the various domains of her life (e.g., marriage, children,
work, friendships, income) and arrive at her life satisfaction judgment based
upon the average satisfaction she obtains from each of these domains. In other
words, does a woman have a good life because she is satisfied or is she satisfied
because she has a good life? Preliminary research suggests that the answer is
both, but additional work is needed to address this question further.
One of the principal questions that researchers are tackling is, what
causes life satisfaction? That is, why are some women more satisfied than
others? Most of the research in this area can be subsumed under two categories
-- namely, evidence implicating personality (i.e., genetics, inborn traits) and
evidence implicating environment (i.e., life circumstances and life events). A
great deal of work has investigated whether life satisfaction is a stable, enduring
trait or whether it is a variable that is highly influenced by external events and
life circumstances. For example, will the experience of discrimination or
harassment, the birth of a child, a divorce, purchasing a house, obtaining an
advanced degree, or the day-to-day hassles of balancing work and home life
greatly influence a woman’s satisfaction with her life? Alternatively, will a
woman’s stable characteristic patterns of responding to events determine her
life satisfaction, such that she remains satisfied (or dissatisfied) despite changes
in income, social relationships, employment, or other significant life events. In
support of the latter view, research has shown that individuals tend to show
similar levels of satisfaction across time and across many life domains. For
example, women who are content with their marriages are also likely to be
content with their work, their children, their financial situation, and even the
daily weather. However, this finding should not be overstated, as it is certainly
possible to be dissatisfied with one’s partner but satisfied with one’s job. In
support of the alternative perspective, another study found that the proportion
of positive to negative life events experienced during the previous year
predicted an individual’s life satisfaction during the following year. This
finding suggests that life events, such as a new marriage or a new job, may
indeed significantly boost or deflate one’s overall life satisfaction.
Eunkook Suh and his colleagues (1996) conducted a longitudinal study
that may help explain such conflicting findings. They asked recent female and
male college graduates to report their significant life events and their subjective
well-being, including their life satisfaction, approximately every 6 months over
a 2-year period. The results showed that the occurrence of particular life
events in these students’ lives was related to changes in their well-being -- but
these effects did not endure. That is, recent life events in both men and women
predicted changes in well-being while distal events did not, possibly because
people adapt to significant life changes over long periods of time. The results
of this study suggest that “personality” or “environmental” explanations in
isolation may not be sufficient to explain the source of people’s life satisfaction
judgments. That is, life satisfaction may have both stable, trait-like
components (reflecting the effect of a personality predisposition), as well as
variable, state-like components (reflecting environmental influences). However,
it may be impossible to entirely discriminate between these two sets of
components because one’s personality may influence one’s life events. For
example, an extraverted woman may place herself in social situations, giving
herself the opportunity to have more encounters and a greater wealth of life
experiences. Indeed, Robert Plomin and his colleagues (1990) provide evidence
that genes do have a small influence on the actual types of life events people
Supporting the argument that personality plays a role in determining
life satisfaction, personality variables such as psychological resilience,
assertiveness, empathy, internal locus of control, extraversion, and openness to
experience have been found to be related to life satisfaction. Furthermore,
Keith Magnus and his colleagues (1993) found in a longitudinal study that
personality predicted life satisfaction 4 years subsequent to the study. This
pattern of results suggests that life satisfaction may have a dispositional
component or at least interacts with the environment to influence life
satisfaction. Finally, as previously mentioned, satisfied individuals tend to be
satisfied across several life domains. Combined, these findings suggest that life
satisfaction is stable over time and consistent across situations.
Further supporting the view that life satisfaction has trait-like
characteristics, several studies have also found that subjective well-being, which
encompasses life satisfaction, has a substantial genetic component. For
example, Auke Tellegen and his colleagues showed that identical twins (who
share 100% of their genes) reared in separate environments are more alike in
their levels of well-being than fraternal twins (who share 50% or their genes)
reared in either separate or similar environments. Future research would benefit
from studies that measure life satisfaction specifically to reach stronger
conclusions about the links between personality and life satisfaction.
Currently, the literature suggests that personality plays a significant role in
whether a women will judge her life to be satisfying. However, proximal
environmental factors (e.g., recent life events) can influence life satisfaction
judgments in the short term. In conclusion, as with many variables in the field
of psychology, both nature and nurture (i.e., personality and environment)
appear to be influential in determining life satisfaction, and to discount one
explanation in favor of the other would not be empirically or theoretically
The vast majority of research on life satisfaction investigates the extent
to which various demographic variables predict life satisfaction. However,
because researchers are not able to perform true experiments by randomly
assigning participants to demographic groups (e.g., gender, income, age), all of
this research has necessarily been correlational. Much of the work has focused
on the “objective” determinants of life satisfaction -- that is, the extent to
which satisfaction is related to the environment, both imposed (e.g., culture)
and relatively controllable (e.g., income, occupation, education, marriage), as
well as to specific aspects of persons (e.g., gender, age).
A. Culture
Before describing research on cultural influences, we must revisit the
question of whether life satisfaction can be measured similarly across cultures.
Fortunately, satisfaction appears to be a universal term, and cross-cultural
researchers have not had any difficulty translating measures of life satisfaction
into many different languages. People from different cultures are able to
distinguish between such terms as “happiness,” “satisfaction with life,” “best
possible life,” and “worst possible life,” and there does not appear to be a
linguistic bias. Thus, research suggests that life satisfaction is not a uniquely
Western concept. For example, non-response and “don’t know” answers to
questions about life satisfaction are no more frequent in non-Western cultures
than in Western ones. In sum, such evidence for the cultural universality of the
construct of life satisfaction has allowed researchers to compare life satisfaction
across cultures.
Current research shows that members of individualist cultures (e.g.,
U.S., England, Australia) report greater satisfaction relative to members of
collectivist cultures (e.g., China, Japan, India). Life satisfaction also appears to
vary with other cultural dimensions. For example, citizens of wealthy,
industrialized nations have very high levels of satisfaction overall, and citizens
of poor, third-world nations have low levels of satisfaction overall. Research
suggests that once a community of people reach a decent standard of living,
however, differences in life satisfaction are less likely to be related to
differences in wealth.
Once subsistence levels have been reached, recent research suggests that
members of different cultures reach life satisfaction judgments in distinct ways.
Eunkook Suh and colleagues (1998) conducted a large international study of 61
nations, with close to 62,500 participants. Their findings suggested that
members of collectivist and individualist cultures chronically rely on different
types of information when assessing their life satisfaction. That is, members of
collectivist cultures appear to rely on cultural norms (i.e., Am I expected to be
satisfied?) to determine their life satisfaction judgments, whereas members of
individualist cultures appear to rely on emotional experiences (i.e., Do I
frequently feel happy and content?) as their guide to life satisfaction
judgments. Interestingly, participants from Hong Kong, a collectivist city,
appear to rely on emotion to determine their life satisfaction judgments. The
rapid Westernization and modernization of this continually changing culture
may account for this surprising finding. Moreover, it serves as an example of
our earlier point that personality and environment are both important
determinants of life satisfaction -- that is, that life satisfaction judgments can be
fluid and subject to the changing social environment.
Reinforcing the importance of the social climate in people’s life
satisfaction, researchers have also found that life satisfaction is greatest among
prosperous nations characterized by gender-equality, care for human rights,
political freedom, and access to knowledge. Cultures that are more accepting of
differences (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, religion) and those
that demand equal treatment of and equal opportunity for their citizens, appear
to foster greater overall satisfaction. It is not surprising that women living in
patriarchal cultures in which equal opportunities are unavailable and equal value
is not afforded would experience greater dissatisfaction with their lives than
women living in egalitarian cultures.
B. Gender
An apparently paradoxical finding in the literature is that women show
higher rates of depression than men, but also report higher levels of well-being.
At the same time, the majority of studies find no gender differences in life
satisfaction. These conflicting findings can be resolved by considering the range
of affect that men and women typically experience. Women report
experiencing affect -- both positive and negative -- with greater intensity and
frequency than do men. That is, women tend to experience greater joy and
deeper sadness -- and experience these emotions more often -- than do men.
Hence, measures of depression and subjective well-being, which include
affective components, appear to capture the extreme lows that leave women
vulnerable to depression, as well as the extreme highs that allow for greater
well-being. By contrast, men and women report similar rates of global life
satisfaction, which is primarily a cognitive assessment.
Despite similar levels of life satisfaction across gender, women and men
appear to derive life satisfaction from different sources. For example, Ed
Diener and Frank Fujita (1995) found that social resources (i.e., family, friends,
access to social services) are predictive of life satisfaction for both men and
women, but they are more predictive of life satisfaction for women. Perhaps
women’s roles as the conservators of contact with friends and family -- both a
blessing and a burden -- lead to their relatively greater reliance on social
support. By contrast, factors that may be more relevant to men’s personal
goals, such as athleticism, influential connections, and authority, were found to
be related to life satisfaction for men, but not for women.
A meta-analysis of the predictors of life satisfaction in the elderly
conducted by Martin Pinquart and Silvia Sorensen (2000) found additional
support for the assertion that men and women derive satisfaction from
different sources. In their study, life satisfaction was more highly related to
income for men than for women. The authors hypothesized that because men
are more socialized to draw their sense of identity from work and income, they
tend to look to income as a barometer of their success and satisfaction with
their life. In addition, more women live in poverty than do men, so it may be
easier for men to obtain satisfaction from their financial situation than it is for
Although most research on life satisfaction has not been directly
focused on the experiences of women, a few studies have investigated the
unique predictors of life satisfaction for women. For example, as stated
previously, several studies have demonstrated that the greater the gender
equality within a culture (i.e., freedom to make reproductive choices, equal pay,
equal value under the law, equal opportunity to education and achievement),
the greater reported life satisfaction. This finding spans both equality in the
broader cultural sense and equality within a marriage. For example, Gloria
Cowan and her colleagues (1998) found that women who report greater
equality in their marriages tend to report greater life satisfaction than women
whose marriages are relatively more traditional. That is, women seem to
achieve greater satisfaction with their lives overall when they are in marriages in
which their roles are not traditionally proscribed. Marital equality may
manifest itself in the sharing of household chores and responsibility for
childcare, as well as equal say in family decision-making. However, this ideal is
not often achieved. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema and her colleagues (1999) found
that women carry the overwhelming burden in regard to household and parental
responsibility, and report feeling relatively less appreciated by their spouse.
Regardless of the type of marriage, however, married women report greater life
satisfaction than single, widowed, or divorced women.
In further research, Arlene Metha and her colleagues (1989) conducted a
survey investigating the major regrets and priorities of women. Overall, the
least satisfied women surveyed reported that their greatest regret was having
failed to take risks. Possibly because of women’s childcare burdens, many
cultures discourage women from risk-taking. However, despite their many
dangers, taking risks also provides access to greater opportunities. That is,
without the ability to take risks, a woman would not be able to start her own
business, move to a new city, pursue a graduate education, or ask for a
promotion. Thus, it would not be difficult to imagine that failing to take risks
might translate into missed opportunities and greater dissatisfaction.
John Haworth and his colleagues (1997) found that, among their sample
of American working women, those who had an internal locus of control (i.e.,
who believed that control of events comes from within themselves rather than
outside of themselves) were relatively more satisfied with their lives. For
example, a woman who perceives her success to be due to her hard work and
determination would report greater satisfaction than a woman who perceives
her success to be due to luck or chance. This is not surprising, as a belief in
one’s own ability to effect changes and choose the course of one’s life is
undoubtedly more satisfying than believing that one has no control over life’s
An additional study found that women’s hostility toward other women
was inversely associated with life satisfaction. That is, women who harbored
hostile feelings toward other women were less likely to be satisfied with their
own lives. This finding appears to correspond well with the comparison
theories discussed earlier. Researchers have suggested that people’s
perceptions of their life satisfaction are in part due to comparisons that they
make between what they have, what they want, what they used to have, and
what others have. Thus, hostility toward other women may be a consequence
of unfavorable social comparisons. That is, the recognition that another woman
is clearly better off may be related to dissatisfaction with one’s own life.
C. Age
Numerous studies have provided evidence that, contrary to common
expectations, life satisfaction does not decline with age. For example, in a
cross-cultural study conducted in 40 different nations and with nearly 6,000
participants, Ed Diener and Eunkook Suh (1998) found that reported life
satisfaction generally remained stable throughout the life span, showing just a
slight increasing trend between the ages of 20 and 80 years.
The predominant explanation for this surprising lack of difference in life
satisfaction levels across the life span is that people have an extraordinary
capacity to adapt to significant life changes. In a study by Carol Ryff (1991),
older participants reported smaller discrepancies between their realistic and
their ideal selves than did younger participants. Perhaps, as women age, they
revise their ideals to accommodate their current circumstances (i.e., engage in
“accommodative coping”). For example, a woman who had intended to have
three children may have only been able to bear two. With time, she might
decide that having three is impractical financially and that having two is
actually preferable. This conclusion would serve to decrease the discrepancy
between her ideal and the reality of her life. Indeed, according to Jochen
Brandtstaedter and Gerolf Renner (1990), accommodative coping does tend to
increase with age. Alternatively, as women age, they may achieve their goals
with greater frequency (i.e., a family, career success, and financial comfort),
moving closer to their ideal self.
D. Social Relationships
Francis Bacon (1625) said that human relationships double our joys and
halve our sorrows. Many studies have supported this contention. High levels
of social support have been shown to be strongly associated with high levels of
life satisfaction. For example, one study found that participants who could list
five or more friends were happier than participants who could not list many
friends. In addition to the number of social contacts, it appears that gender is a
factor in the quality of intimate relationships as well. Women tend to provide
greater and more meaningful support than men. That is, both women and men
report that their friendships with women are more intimate, nurturing, and
supportive than their friendships with men. Perhaps this is due to the finding
that conversations with women involve greater self-disclosure and empathy.
In Western nations, marriage appears to be even more predictive of life
satisfaction than relationships with friends and family. Ed Diener and his
colleagues (2000) found that married women do not differ in their levels of life
satisfaction from married men. However, married men reported greater positive
affect than did married women, as well as did single people of both genders.
Thus, men appear to benefit more from marriage than do women -- possibly
because husbands become dependent on their wives’ emotional support and
household care. This study also found that cohabitating unmarried
participants, especially those from collectivist cultures, reported less life
satisfaction than did married participants.
Interestingly, having children does not appear to increase people’s life
satisfaction, although this finding is difficult to interpret given that childless
individuals are different from parents in numerous ways. However, for those
who have children, the quality of their relationships with their children is
highly related to their level of satisfaction with their life overall. Also, several
studies have suggested that parents’ life satisfaction tends to correlate
negatively with the number of children that they have -- that is, life satisfaction
decreases as the number of children increases.
E. Income
The relationship between income and life satisfaction is a complicated
one. It seems that within nations, wealthier individuals are more satisfied than
poorer individuals. Across nations, wealthier nations also show greater levels
of life satisfaction than poorer nations; however, across-nation differences are
smaller than within-nation differences. Furthermore, a robust finding in this
literature concerns the distribution of wealth within a nation – that is, the
greater the economic disparities among income levels and classes in a nation, the
greater the dissatisfaction expressed overall and the greater the disparity
between satisfaction levels of the wealthy and the poor. Thus, women who
live in poorer, less egalitarian nations tend to be less satisfied with their lives
overall than women who live in wealthier nations.
Despite significant correlations between life satisfaction and wealth,
longitudinal research has shown that rises in people’s incomes do not
necessarily coincide with related increases in life satisfaction. For example,
Americans’ levels of life satisfaction before and after World War II did not
increase despite significant growth in income during this time period. Several
explanations have been offered to account for these results. Perhaps once a
certain level of wealth is obtained, life satisfaction is no longer anchored to
increases in wealth and in material goods. In addition, social comparison may
account for this effect – that is, comparing oneself with others as income and
wealth increase may produce corresponding increases in expectations such that
levels of satisfaction remain stable.
F. Employment
An individual’s employment status, regardless of income, appears to
predict life satisfaction, such that the unemployed report significantly
diminished satisfaction compared with the employed. When gender is taken
into account, it appears that employment (or lack thereof) is more strongly
associated with life satisfaction for men than for women. This finding is not
surprising, given that there is less cultural pressure on women to work outside
the home. However, this pattern may change as existing gender roles broaden.
At present, men’s sense of self and identity is more strongly tied to their
employment status than it is for women.
G. Education
Overall, researchers have found a small correlation between education
and life satisfaction. However, the correlation appears to disappear when
income and occupation are statistically controlled. That is, the relationship
between education and life satisfaction is probably due to the fact that higher
levels of education are associated with higher incomes.
Education also appears to be more highly related to life satisfaction for
individuals with lower incomes and in poor nations. Perhaps poorer persons
obtain greater satisfaction from education because the achievement surpasses
their expectations of what is attainable. For example, poor women in some
cultures have little access to education, so when they do gain access, they may
value and appreciate the experience more than those who perceive access to
education as universal and easily available. Education may also provide access
to greater occupational and income opportunities, which may additionally
influence life satisfaction.
Despite the overall trend suggesting that education is more strongly
related to life satisfaction for the poor, recent studies have found that, in
wealthy nations, the most highly educated individuals seem to be slightly
dissatisfied with their lives. It is possible that the educational elite have higher
expectations or greater cynicism about their lives. Indeed, income appears to
be a better predictor of life satisfaction than level of education.
H. General Comments
While this review of the predictors of life satisfaction provides valuable
information and raises some intriguing questions, we must be cautious in
interpreting these findings because the possibility of selection effects may
artificially bolster some of the results. For example, the observation that
married individuals are more satisfied with their lives than unmarried ones may
be confounded by the fact that more mentally healthy, extraverted, and stable
individuals are able to find and sustain quality relationships with a spouse, and
those factors are also correlated with life satisfaction. Similar selection effects
may account for some of the findings regarding gender, income, employment,
education, and age.
The vast majority of studies investigating life satisfaction have been survey-
based. Although current self-report measures of life satisfaction have good
reliability and validity, the field would benefit greatly from the use of alternative
methodologies. For example, expanding the measurement of life satisfaction with
physiological data (e.g., skin conductance, heart rate, blood pressure,
neuropsychological measures), informant data, daily experience sampling, facial
expressions, and cognitive procedures (e.g. reaction times) would greatly bolster
the validity of self-reports and ensure that future measures of life satisfaction are
completely gender-neutral.
Studies of life satisfaction would also benefit from greater complexity of
research design. Longitudinal studies and studies using causal modeling
statistical techniques would bolster researchers’ conclusions by moving beyond
correlational methods that make it difficult to disentangle causal relationships
among variables. For example, the finding that income seems to be more
strongly related to life satisfaction for men than for women is difficult to
interpret without greater statistical and methodological precision.
More sophisticated methodologies could also shed light on how
interactions between women’s personalities and their environment (i.e., nature
and nurture) may influence their life satisfaction. Sonja Lyubomirsky (2000)
argues that three types of personality-environment interactions may be
operating in this area. One type of interaction is referred to as “reactive” – that
is, satisfied women may perceive and respond to the same circumstances
differently from unsatisfied ones (e.g., cope better with poverty or adversity).
Another type of interaction is called “evocative” -- that is, satisfied women
may evoke different kinds of reactions in others (e.g., may be better liked and
more successful at obtaining jobs or marriage partners). The final type of
interaction is called “proactive” -- that is, satisfied women may find and
construct different social worlds and environments (e.g., choose to leave an
unfulfilling job or to move abroad). Empirical investigations of these
personality-environment interactions may help shed light on some of the
conflicting findings regarding the predictors of life satisfaction. For example,
studies of this kind may help reconcile the findings that life satisfaction has
been found to be both stable over time as well as influenced by recent life
Although much of the research described in this article has not
specifically addressed the experiences of women, it nevertheless provides a
great deal of information about life satisfaction in women. For example, women
who live in egalitarian nations characterized by greater gender equality are
relatively more satisfied with their lives than women who live in regions in
which more traditional gender roles are observed. In addition, women who
show an internal locus of control and less hostility toward other women, who
have less traditional marriages and relatively more friends, and who have
relatively higher incomes and greater levels of education tend to be more
satisfied with their lives. Because measures of life satisfaction have been
shown to be gender neutral, researchers can maintain a reasonable degree of
confidence in these findings. Interestingly, women and men appear to differ
with respect to the sources from which they derive their life satisfaction. For
example, women tend to draw on social resources (i.e., friends, family,
community) to assess their satisfaction with their lives, whereas men are
inclined to draw on financial and occupational status. Further research,
however, is needed to specify more precisely the differences in the factors
related to life satisfaction judgments for men versus women. Additionally,
questions such as, “Is the life satisfaction of women from diverse backgrounds
(i.e., different races, cultures, ages, classes, and sexual orientations) related to a
unique set of variables?” remain to be explored. Future studies focusing on the
lives and experiences of women are needed to further develop and explore such
Further Reading
Argyle, M. (1999). Causes and correlates of happiness. In D.
Kahneman & E. Diener (Eds.), Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic
Psychology (pp. 353-373). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective
well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276-302.
Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S., (1985). The
satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71-157.
Emmons, R. A., & Diener, E. (1985). Factors predicting satisfaction
judgments: A comparative examination. Social Indicators Research, 16, 157-
Fujita, F., Diener, E., & Sandvik, E. (1991). Gender differences in
negative affect and well-being: The case for emotional intensity. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 427-434.
Headey, B., & Wearing, A. (1989). Personality, life events, and
subjective well-being: Toward a dynamic equilibrium model. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 731-739.
Pinquart, M., & Sorensen, S., (2000). Influences of socioeconomic
status, social network, and competence on subjective well-being in later life: A
meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 15, 187-224.
Veenhoven, R. (1996). Developments in satisfaction research. Social
Indicators Research, 37, 1-46.
... No es extraño, por tanto, encontrar diferencias significativas en los resultados de las especialidades más recientes tales como Audición y Lenguaje (AL), Pedagogía Terapéutica (PT) y Educación Especial (EE), con respecto a otras con mayor protagonismo y recorrido histórico tales como: Educación Física, Lengua Extranjera o Educación Primaria. En este sentido señalar que el contexto laboral parece determinar en buena parte el bienestar psicológico, considerándose un producto de la adaptación de los deseos y necesidades con las exigencias del contexto (Sousa y Lyubomirsky, 2001). De hecho, autores como Kozlowski y Hults (1987), señalan que las características del puesto de trabajo influyen en sus percepciones individuales sobre el clima laboral. ...
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... This can be seen from the elderly who feel grateful for what they have, accept the illness suffered in old age, and remain confident. According to Sousa and Lyubomirsky (2001), someone's life satisfaction refers to one's acceptance of the state of life and the extent to which a person can fulfill everything he wants in its entirety. When someone accepts his life condition, he will feel satisfied with life. ...
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W. Wilson's (1967) review of the area of subjective well-being (SWB) advanced several conclusions regarding those who report high levels of "happiness." A number of his conclusions have been overturned: youth and modest aspirations no longer are seen as prerequisites of SWB. E. Diener's (1984) review placed greater emphasis on theories that stressed psychological factors. In the current article, the authors review current evidence for Wilson's conclusions and discuss modern theories of SWB that stress dispositional influences, adaptation, goals, and coping strategies. The next steps in the evolution of the field are to comprehend the interaction of psychological factors with life circumstances in producing SWB, to understand the causal pathways leading to happiness, understand the processes underlying adaptation to events, and develop theories that explain why certain variables differentially influence the different components of SWB (life satisfaction, pleasant affect, and unpleasant affect). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Meta-analysis is used to synthesize findings from 286 empirical studies on the association of socioeconomic status (SES), social network, and competence with subjective well-being (SWB) in the elderly. All three aspects of life circumstances are positively associated with SWB. Income is correlated more strongly with well-being than is education. The quality of social contacts shows stronger associations with SWB than does the quantity of social contacts. Whereas having contact with friends is more strongly related to SWB than having contact with adult children, there are higher associations between life satisfaction and quality of contact with adult children when compared with quality of friendships. Moderating influences of gender and age on the effects of SES, social network, and competence on SWB are also investigated.
This article reports the development and validation of a scale to measure global life satisfaction, the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). Among the various components of subjective well-being, the SWLS is narrowly focused to assess global life satisfaction and does not tap related constructs such as positive affect or loneliness. The SWLS is shown to have favorable psychometric properties, including high internal consistency and high temporal reliability. Scores on the SWLS correlate moderately to highly with other measures of subjective well-being, and correlate predictably with specific personality characteristics. It is noted that the SWLS is suited for use with different age groups, and other potential uses of the scale are discussed.
Using data from 4 waves of an Australian panel study, this study offers a dynamic account of relations between personality, life events, and subjective well-being (SWB). Members of the Victorian Quality of Life panel study were interviewed in 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1987. The initial sample size was 942; 649 respondents remain. The study shows that very stable personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience) predispose people to experience moderately stable levels of favorable and adverse life events and moderately stable levels of SWB. However, contrary to previous research (P. T. Costa and R. R. McCrae, 1984) life events influence SWB over and above the effects of personality. A dynamic equilibrium (DE) model is outlined, in which each person is regarded as having "normal" equilibrium levels of life events and SWB, predictable on the basis of age and personality. Only when events deviate from their equilibrium levels does SWB change. The DE model is compared with 3 alternatives: personality models, adaptation level models, and models that treat life events as being wholly exogenous. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
A number of psychological processes (e.g. social comparison, aspirations) may explain why people differ in their satisfaction with various life domains. This study compared the impact of a number of such processes on satisfaction judgments in a sample of 149 college students. Social comparison and positive affect were strong predictors of satisfaction across most domains. Objective conditions and aspirations were predictive of satisfaction in few domains. The relevance of Multiple Discrepancies Theory (Michalos, 1983) for the present findings is discussed. Limitations of the present study are noted and suggestions for future research are offered. Researchers need to focus on the reasons underlying the predictability of different domains from different processes.
Affect intensity (AI) may reconcile 2 seemingly paradoxical findings: Women report more negative affect than men but equal happiness as men. AI describes people's varying response intensity to identical emotional stimuli. A college sample of 66 women and 34 men was assessed on both positive and negative affect using 4 measurement methods: self-report, peer report, daily report, and memory performance. A principal-components analysis revealed an affect balance component and an AI component. Multimeasure affect balance and AI scores were created, and t tests were computed that showed women to be as happy as and more intense than men. Gender accounted for less than 1% of the variance in happiness but over 13% in AI. Thus, depression findings of more negative affect in women do not conflict with well-being findings of equal happiness across gender. Generally, women's more intense positive emotions balance their higher negative affect.