HAPPINESS TRENDS UNDER DEMOCRACY: WHERE WILL THE NEW SOUTH AFRICAN


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Abstract

Five years after South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, life satisfaction and happiness still reflect societal divides sowed by apartheid social engineering. The paper reports the indicators: life satisfaction, happiness and expectations for the future, from national surveys conducted between 1983 and 1999 for the South African Quality-of-Life Trends Project. Post-election euphoria, which saw all South Africans happy and satisfied with life for a brief moment in 1994, raises the question where the new set-level of subjective well-being will eventually come to rest. In 1999, in spite of some gains in living conditions, the level of life satisfaction of blacks has not risen above the mid-point and happiness is only slightly above the mid-point. Meanwhile, whites, who have forfeited their political dominance, continue to score above the mid-point on happiness and life satisfaction. The paper draws on the literature, particularly on quality-of-life trends in reunified Germany and paradoxical trends in African-American life satisfaction when discussing the dynamics underlying South African subjective well-being. It is argued that coping mechanisms may play an important role in determining levels of subjective well-being in the complex situation of South Africa.

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