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March 5, 2015

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Happiness fades as pollution, income fears rise

LYDIA Wu has become more concerned about the air quality and the health of her family since she watched “Under the Dome” on Monday, a documentary on pollution made by well-known journalist Chai Jing.

It has been watched by more than 150 million viewers.

“(Before watching it) I thought I lived a happy life — with healthy child and parents, decent job, good pay,” says the 34-year-old human resources manager. “But it (air pollution) seems so terrible, I’m thinking maybe we need to emigrate overseas.”

Wu isn’t the only one who’s thinking along these lines.

A large investigation project spanning nine years and covering 100,000 households in 104 cities across China shows air quality is the top environmental issue among those interviewed.

The project, supported by the National Statistic Bureau and released by CCTV on Monday, is an annual investigation initiated in 2006. It includes nationwide surveys among ordinary families on their opinions toward hotly discussed issues, from the economy to life.

About 86.6 percent of the surveys have been collected for this year’s project, which has helped form a general picture of the economic situation, investment trend, difficulties in life and happiness status among households.

Complete results will not be announced until March 9.


According to the survey, the level of happiness among Chinese people does not increase much even though living standards have greatly improved.

It shows that only about 40 percent of the households questioned feel happy about their life, with 10.6 percent of respondents feeling very happy and 29.4 percent relatively happy.

The percentage of happy people increased from 45 percent in 2010 to 47.9 percent in 2012, yet it has dropped this year.

Hefei of Anhui Province, Taiyuan of Shanxi Province and Haikou of Hainan Province top the provincial capitals with the largest percentage of happy residents. Shanghai doesn’t even make the top 10.

That more than half of Chinese have less than two hours of spare time apart from work and about 10 percent of Chinese spent more than two hours going to work every day may lead to the unhappiness to some extent.

“Happiness is not a fact but an emotion. The results are based on the answers, which reflect the respondents’ attitudes toward life, but not necessarily the fact,” Shanghai sociologist Gu Xiaoming says.

He says there are numerous factors that may influence people’s recognition of happiness, including overly high expectations or cynical attitudes.

Compared with repeatedly questioning people whether they are happy, making concrete improvements in living conditions will be more worthwhile, Gu adds.

The report also reveals a decrease in income expectations.

Only 67.6 percent of interviewees are confident about getting a raise this year, the lowest in the past four years.

Jiangxi Province ranks top with 74.4 percent of respondents confident about earning more money, followed by Jilin (71.8 percent), Shandong (70.8 percent), Anhui (70.8 percent) and Hubei (70 percent).

Rainbow Zhao, 32, does not think she will get a raise this year though she changed to the current job at a private cargo agent company for a higher salary in 2012.

Considering the unfavorable currency exchange rate at the moment, the company with its major business in the United States route is not likely to make big money this year, Zhao says.

David Xia, a 31-year-old policeman in Shanghai, is also pessimistic and says he has long given up the idea about a raise. The basic salary for public servants hasn’t been raised since 2006, he says. “My salary increased about 20 yuan last year.”

Though a pay rise for public servants has been listed as a major topic for this year’s National People’s Congress, Xia does not think it will benefit him much.

“The average salary for public servants in Shanghai is higher than that in many other provinces due to much higher living costs. Even if they decide to raise the pay level, it will largely benefit public servants in poor regions,” Xia says. “I don’t think much change will be made for the police salary in Shanghai.”

While confidence about getting a salary raise declines, there is a growing trend to invest in stocks and mutual funds. According to the survey, about 63 percent of young women aged 18-25 years old make financial investments, ranking top among all age groups. It is followed by young men in the same age range, with 62.8 percent making financial investments.

The willingness to invest decreases as one gets older, according to the results.

Unexpectedly, “dama” (middle-aged Chinese women), known around the world for their crazy purchase of gold in 2013 as an investment, only hold a slight edge on “dashu” (middle-aged Chinese men), who rank last among the age groups for their willingness to invest.

Mutual funds, the most popular investment for Chinese in the past four years, are now the preferred investment for 10 percent of respondents. Financial products are now the most popular, rising from fourth last year and fifth in 2013.

Shirley Xu, 29, a public relations officer at a foreign-invested bank, started investing her money in high school.

She owned some stocks in high school and shifted to mutual funds when she got her first job. Now she tends to diversify risk by spreading her investments around.

“Keeping money in a bank account is just like losing money considering inflation,” Xu says. “Sure, there are risks when investing. That’s why I only invest with my spare money.”

Starting a business

Starting one’s own business is no longer a privilege of the rich in China. About 13.6 percent of respondents started their own businesses last year while 20.5 percent said they planned to start a business this year.

A strong willingness to start a business is found among married men in cities. About 33.5 percent of males aged 26 to 35 admitted they wanted to start a business in 2015.

Zhang Sheng just convinced his wife of his business plan, and the 35-year-old is busy planning his early education service company with two partners.

Having worked for a foreign-invested consulting company for 12 years, Zhang says he is determined to work for himself rather than any other people this year.

“To be honest, money is the biggest reason for my decision (to start a business),” he says.

Witnessing the promotion ceiling most Chinese staff in the company inevitably face, Zhang is not optimistic about his present career.

“Even if I became a department head, which is hard already for many Chinese, I would not earn more than 1 million yuan (US$160,000) a year,” says Zhang. “That’s not a satisfactory situation for my family in the long run, considering the strict retirement system in China.”

Ideally, Zhang wants to increase his annual income to 5 million yuan in five years. But he also admits it is risky running his own business compared with working for a mature company.

“Even if I fail, I believe the experience of running a business will be valuable if I have to return to the job market,” Zhang says. “I am not worried.”


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