Wealth, Poverty, and Happiness: Social Class Is Differentially Associated With Positive Emotions

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Abstract

Is higher social class associated with greater happiness? In a large nationally representative U.S. sample (N = 1,519), we examined the association between social class (household income) and self-reported tendencies to experience 7 distinct positive emotions that are core to happiness: amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love, and pride. Consistent with past research indicating that social class underlies differential patterns of attending to the self versus orienting to others, higher social class was associated with greater self-oriented feelings of contentment and pride, and with greater amusement. In contrast, lower social class was associated with more other-oriented feelings of compassion and love, and with greater awe. There were no class differences in enthusiasm. We discuss that individuals from different social class backgrounds may exhibit different patterns of emotional responding due to their distinct social concerns and priorities. Whereas self-oriented emotions may follow from, foster, and reinforce upper class individuals’ desire for independence and self-sufficiency, greater other-oriented emotion may enable lower class individuals to form more interdependent bonds to cope with their more threatening environments.

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