Well-being Across Changing Social Landscapes
Low subjective well-being arises from differences between experiences and expectations, often identified through social comparisons. Many studies have investigated how individual exposures to a recessive period associates with contemporaneous changes in subjective well-being, finding inconsistent results. The studies collected here expand prior research by (1) examining contemporaneous associations between subjective well-being and unemployment rates before, during, and after a recession and by (2) investigating whether recessions influence subjective well-being in a more persistent manner through Cohort Socialization. This mechanism predicts first that exposure to recessions in young adulthood changes individual outlooks. Second, it predicts that these differences in outlooks correlate with differences in subjective well-being.
I use the General Social Survey (GSS) repeated cross-sections (1994-2014) and three GSS three-wave panels (2006-2014) to investigate this conceptual model. I analyze these data with various logistic regression models, including hierarchical models for panel data. These studies find a negative association between subjective well-being and contemporaneous unemployment rates across the study period. In addition, these studies find a persistent effect (exceeding five years) of exposure to recessive periods during young adulthood. First, those who experienced a recession in young adulthood have different average levels of subjective well-being from those who did not. Second, exposure to a short recession (near 6 months) in young adulthood (ages 18-22) is associated with higher subjective well-being, while exposure to a long recession (over 16 months) is associated with lower subjective well-being. Third, differences in intergenerational comparative expectations—how people compare their own standard of living to that of their parents and children—is a difference in outlook that partially mediates the observed differences in subjective well-being.
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