July 22, 2008

The Chinese Celebrate Their Roaring Economy, As They Struggle With Its Costs

Chapter 1. Chinese Views of Their Lives

While large majorities in China are content with their country’s direction and economy, satisfaction with certain personal issues – job and household income – is more modest. Indeed, while most are satisfied with their family life, job and household income, by global standards, levels of personal satisfaction in China are not especially high. In addition, where satisfaction with national conditions has grown substantially in the last several years, personal levels of satisfaction have not.

Despite pervasive concerns about rising prices, real inflationary pressures have not yet affected the ability of most people to afford the daily necessities of food and energy. However, roughly half report struggling to afford health care, and many have difficulty saving for retirement and paying for education.

Satisfaction with Family Life, Job, Income

Roughly eight-in-ten Chinese (81%) are satisfied with their family lives and 14% are very satisfied.

Satisfaction with one’s job (64%) and household income (58%) is more limited and far more so than satisfaction with the country’s direction (86%) and national economy (82%). Few are very satisfied with either their job (4%) or household income (4%).

When compared with the personal satisfaction levels of other publics, Chinese satisfaction with family life, job and income appear moderate-to-low. On the 2007 Pew survey, out of 47 countries China ranked 29th in terms of satisfaction with family life, 33rd on household income, and 35th on happiness with one’s job.

Trends in these areas of personal satisfaction vary. General happiness with one’s family life has remained basically steady over the last several years. After dropping from just over six-in-ten (63%) in 2002 to 52% in 2007, job satisfaction recovered in 2008; nearly two-thirds (64%) of Chinese currently report being satisfied with their jobs.

Satisfaction with household income has followed a similar path, declining from 2002 (51%) to 2007 (46%) and then recovering to a healthy majority in 2008 (58%).

By contrast, Chinese satisfaction with their country’s direction and national economy has increased dramatically since 2002. While about half were satisfied with China’s direction (48%) and economy (52%) in 2002, more than eight-in-ten were in 2008 (86% country direction, 82% national economy).

Income and Education Matter in China

In China, as in many places, education and income are linked to how people view their lives. Typically, the more educated the individual, the more likely he or she is to be happy. For example, nine-in-ten (91%) among the college educated are satisfied with their family life, while 84% of those with a high school education and 77% of those with less than a high school education feel the same way.

Largely the same pattern holds for job and income satisfaction. Three-quarters of the well-educated are happy with their jobs (76% with college degree), while roughly six-in-ten of those with a high school (64%) or less than high school (60%) education hold the same view. Two-thirds (66%) of those with a college education are satisfied with their household income, compared with 56% of those with a high school education and 57% of those with less education.

A similar positive relationship is seen between income level and satisfaction with family life, jobs and household income. The more income people earn, the more likely they are to be happy with these aspects of their life. For instance, 93% of those in the highest income bracket are happy with their family life compared with 86% of those in the middle-income group and 71% among those in the lowest group.3

The pattern holds true for job satisfaction. Eight-in-ten among those with high incomes are pleased with their jobs compared with two-thirds (68%) of those in the middle-income group and only half (52%) among those in the lowest income category. And unsurprisingly, the same holds true for satisfaction with income itself – those in the highest bracket (75%) are more likely to be satisfied with their household income than those in the middle (63%) or lowest (46%) groups.

Gender plays a modest role on these issues. Women (61%) are slightly more satisfied with their household income than men (56%), but are about equally likely to be satisfied with their family life and job.

Similarly, the relationship between age and life satisfaction is limited. The young tend to be happier with their family life, though not by much – 86% of young people 18-29 are pleased with their family life, while only slightly fewer feel the same way among those ages 30-49 (82%), 40-49 (79%) or 50 or older (80%). When it comes to household income, the youngest (65%) and the oldest (61%) are the most likely to be happy.

Affordability of Health Care, Savings a Problem

While most Chinese are satisfied with their family lives, jobs, and income, many nonetheless report struggling to afford some basic necessities. About half of those surveyed (48%) say they find it hard to afford health care and about a third (34%) say it is difficult to save for retirement. Roughly three-in-ten (28%) find paying for education difficult.

Relatively few, however, consider paying for utilities, such as water, electricity, gas and heating difficult (17%). And just 15% report difficulty affording food. Only 12% find paying taxes hard, although a solid majority (61%) say paying taxes is not applicable to them. Roughly one-quarter also report that saving for retirement (25%) and paying for education (24%) do not apply to them.

Not surprisingly, income plays a role in whether people consider these various goods and services affordable – the less money people earn, the more likely they are to feel they cannot afford various necessities.

A majority (54%) of low-income respondents find health care difficult to afford and they are also significantly more likely than wealthier Chinese to report struggling to buy food (23%) and pay their energy bills (20%).

The same is largely true of those with more limited formal educations. Roughly half of those with a high school education (48%) or less (51%) report difficulty bearing the costs of health care while fewer do so (38%) among the college educated. Also, those with high school educations or less are somewhat more likely than the college educated to say they have troubles paying their food and utility bills.

People who live in major cities are especially likely to say paying for health care (56%) and saving for retirement (43%) are hard, but they are less likely than those in towns (17%) and rural areas (18%) to consider paying for food difficult (10% among city residents). Residents of Western China are more likely than those from Eastern or Central China to have a difficult time affording health care, education, utilities and food.

Young people ages 18-29 are slightly less likely to report difficulty paying for health care (41%) and saving for retirement (30%). Educational costs are of more concern to 40-49 year-olds (37%) than to others.

Not surprisingly, parents with children under age 18 are also especially likely to cite problems paying for education – 32% say they find educational expenses difficult to afford compared with 23% of those with no children under 18.

  1. For income, respondents are grouped into the three categories of low, middle and high. Low-income respondents are those with a reported annual household income of 15,000 yuan or less, middle-income respondents fall between the range of 15,001 and 50,000 yuan annually, and those in the high-income category earn 50,001 yuan or more annually.