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In China, to Get Rich Is Not So Glorious

Income gaps, killer commutes—successful Chinese live the stressful life
Pedestrians in Hong Kong
Pedestrians in Hong KongPhotograph by Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

In the course of a U.S. presidential campaign, the American public is bombarded with surveys asking voters to rank the relative importance of various issues, and whether they think the country is overall on the right track. Not so in China, where another leadership transition has just concluded, with the 18th Party Congress choosing Xi Jinping to succeed Hu Jintao as party secretary now and, in March, as president of China.

But a handful of recent studies do give some insight into public sentiment in the world’s second-largest economy on the eve of its once-in-a-decade leadership transition. The upshot: More wealth buys more cars and handbags, but not necessarily happiness—and white-collar workers in China’s fast-changing economy are the most likely in the world to say they’re more stressed out this year than last. Overall life satisfaction has declined since 1990.