Social Indicators Research

, Volume 142, Issue 1, pp 83–105 | Cite as

Income Inequality, Distributive Justice Beliefs, and Happiness in China: Evidence from a Nationwide Survey

  • Jiawen HuangEmail author


Recently, increasing numbers of scholars have given attention to the mechanism connecting income inequality and happiness. This paper uses a multilevel model to verify the effect of income inequality at the city level on happiness and its moderating effect in China. It is found that income inequality is highly correlated to individual happiness. In the context of the transition China, people are inclined to report more happiness in places where income inequality is lower, after controlling for a number of demographic variables and economic factors. Moreover, this negative effect is relatively robust and significant, regardless of estimates with different covariates. It is worth noting that personal distributive justice beliefs play a momentous role in happiness. Specifically, as an effective social psychological mechanism, they can alleviate the negative effects of income inequality on happiness. A vital implication of the findings for social policy is that the model of economic development should be based on equity and justice and become a consistent source of happiness in this transitional period in China.


Happiness Income inequality Distributive justice beliefs China 



Data used in this paper is from the China Labor-force Dynamics Survey (CLDS) by the Center for Social Science Survey at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China. Please refer to for more information about the CLDS data. The author appreciates the assistance in providing data by the institute and the suggestions of anonymous reviewers; any errors are my own.


This study was funded by Social Science Foundation of Guangdong Province (GD17YSH02), Social Science Foundation of Guangzhou (2018GZGJ10), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2015XMS15).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public AdministrationSouth China University of TechnologyGuangzhouChina

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