ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (9): 1163-1174.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.01163

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Socioeconomic status and sociometric status: Age differences on the effects of social comparison on subjective well-Being

HUANG Tingting1; LIU Liqian2; WANG Dahua1; ZHANG Wenhai3   

  1. (1 Institute of Developmental Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China) (2 Beijing Industry and Trade Technicians College, Beijing 100089, China) (3 Centre for Mental Health Education, Yancheng Institute of Technology, Yancheng 400715, China)
  • Received:2015-08-18 Published:2016-09-25 Online:2016-09-25
  • Contact: WANG Dahua, E-mail:


Social status refers to the position of an individual in the society, generally indicated by socioeconomic status (SES) or sociometric status (SMS). Despite growing research interest in examining relationships between SMS and SWB, only a few studies so far have directly compared the two types of social status with regard to their influences on SWB. Available work in the US has generally reported that SMS not SES has a positive impact on SWB among American samples. Given the economic and cultural differences between China and US, we proposed in the present study that both SES and SMS could be closely associated with an individual’s SWB among Chinese people. Furthermore, we proposed that SES might have stronger effects on young adults’ SWB, whereas SMS have stronger effects on older adults. This age-related hypothesis was grounded in the paradox of SWB with aging and the Social Selectivity Theory (SST). The paradox of SWB assumes that despite of deterioration with aging, older people report higher SWB compared with younger people. To interpret this paradox, SST maintains that individuals’ social motivation will gradually shift from knowledge acquirement to emotion regulation with age. Overall, the main purpose of this paper was to examine the impacts of the two types of social status on individuals’ SWB in a Chinese sample, while also testing age differences in this relationship. Participants were 120 young (aged 27.26 ± 4.80 years) and 120 older adults (aged 65.12 ± 6.49 years) from Beijing, China. Participants were firstly tested for baseline SWB and some covariates including neuroticism and extraversion. After a 3~7 day interval, participants were then allocated into one of the four conditions of social comparison, namely upward SES, downward SES, upward SMS, and downward SMS based on the MacArthur Ladder priming technique. Participants were asked to a) think of their important social networks and single out someone who has the highest or lowest SES (or SMS) among them; b) imagine this person at the very top/bottom rung of the ladder; c) place their own SES (or SMS) on one of the ladder rungs in comparison with the target person. After completing this grading on the ladder, their SWB were measured once again. An independent sampled t-test showed that there is no difference between young and older adults on the overall scores of baseline SWB (t (237) = 1.55, p = 0.12) while older adults reported higher life satisfaction than young adults (t (237) = 3.43, p < 0.01, Cohen’s d = 0.44), which is consistent with the assumption of the paradox of SWB. A three-way ANOVA (comparison direction × status type × age) showed that comparison direction had a significant main effect (F (1,229) = 133.01, p < 0.001, η2p = 0.37), whereas there was no interaction effect between comparison direction and status type, F (1, 229) = 0.20, p = 0.66. In other words, both SES and SMS have significant impacts on SWB. Most importantly, there existed a significant interaction between comparison direction, status type and age, F (1, 229) = 6.92, p < 0.01, η2p = 0.03. Post-hoc analysis indicated that SES had a stronger effect on younger people’s SWB under the downward comparison, whereas SMS had a stronger effect on older people’s SWB under the upward comparison. However, participants’ ladder grades under different comparison directions did not show differences (F (1,231) = 0.05, p = 0.82), which failed to validate the priming effect of the McArthur Ladder techniques. We attribute the failing validation to the insensitivity of the Ladder’s grading mode. In the supplementary experiment, we used a 10 cm-long-rectangle without any grading marks instead of the original graded ladder in order to eliminate the anchoring effects. The results showed a significant difference between upward and downward comparison, which proves that the modified grading mode is effective to identify the priming effects of McArthur Ladder, t (57) = -2.06, p < 0.05, Cohen’s d = 0.54. In conclusion, consistent with our hypotheses, we found that SWB can be affected by SES and SMS simultaneously, which suggests a cultural specificity in terms of the effects of social status on SWB. It is noteworthy that the present study confirmed the aging paradox of SWB, and shed a new light on the age-related differences in the impacts of social status on SWB. The findings demonstrate that SES has stronger effects on young adults, whereas SMS has stronger effects on older adults, which provides a reasonable interpretation for the paradox of SWB with aging from the perspective of social comparison. In addition, we have modified the grading mode of MacArthur Ladder so as to make it applicable among Chinese samples.

Key words: socioeconomic status, sociometric status, subjective well-being, social comparison, aging