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Investigating the relationship between subjective well-being and consumption in the United Kingdom

Zhong, J. Y. (2009). Investigating the relationship between subjective well-being and consumption in the United Kingdom. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


Subjective well-being (SWB) benefits individuals as well as society as a whole. The relevant research has covered many aspects of life. However, as one of the most important way of seeking happiness in modern consumer culture, people’s actual consumption behavior of hedonic products has not been linked to well-being and well studied. Following the two principles crucial to understanding well-being, this thesis investigates this relationship from two perspectives—well-being is both the outcome and the cause of beneficial hedonic product consumption. But the thesis starts from solving a question left from early research on how subjective cognition interacts with objective circumstances to affect well-being. Specifically, this thesis addresses the following research issues:

• RI 1: How much satisfaction with objective circumstances within life domains mediates the relationship between corresponding objective circumstances and SWB?
• RI 2: How much does hedonic consumption affect SWB, and how much is the relationship mediated by people’s satisfaction with their relevant life domains?
• RI 3: How does SWB affects hedonic consumption; and does it have differential impacts on hedonic service consumption versus hedonic durable consumption, and why?

This thesis takes advantage of a large national panel survey with more than 15,000 consumers to investigate these research issues. The findings for the first research issue show that the mediating effect of subjective satisfaction is complicated and domain specific. Satisfaction with the house completely mediates the effect of housing on well-being, while satisfaction with health and leisure life only partially mediate the effects of physical health and engaging in leisure activities on well-being respectively. Moreover, income, having a supportive partner, job type and job pay has no effect on well-being, and satisfaction with these circumstances affects well-being independently.

The findings for the second research issue were that leisure consumption promotes well-being completely through the mediating effect of satisfaction with the use of leisure time, social life, and health. That is, spending on hedonic products to achieve mere pleasure is not the major source of well-being; rather, hedonic consumption for building enduring personal resources in various life domains (e.g., physical healthsocial connections), and being satisfied with these life domains in turn leads to well-being. In addition, frequency of engaging in low-cost leisure activities positively affects satisfaction with the use of leisure time, social life and health, which may indicate that consumption of low-cost hedonic products are primary sources of satisfaction associated with the relevant life domains as well as well-being.

The findings for the third research issue provide evidence that well-being plays a key role in predicting hedonic service consumption: High well-being consumers more frequently consume highly rewarding, low-cost hedonic services, and they spend more on these services to build their physical health, social connectedness, and intellectual skills. However, this relationship does not exist in the context of hedonic durable consumption. High well-being consumers more frequently buy low-cost hedonic durables for their intrinsic fun, but they do not tend to spend more on these less rewarding products, possibly because of their poor association with long-term happiness.

The main contribution of this research is the development and quantification of the bidirectional relationship between consumers’ well-being and their actual consumption. This relationship is one of the first rigorously researched step towards understanding the important confluence of two crucial concerns of well-being and consumption in modern society. This thesis has both theoretical and practical implications in the area of well-being and consumer behavior. The relationship was built from theory and empirical research and provides a foundation for further research on other consumer products and in other culture.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
Doctoral Theses
Bayes Business School > Bayes Business School Doctoral Theses
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