Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Multinational life satisfaction, perceived inequality and energy affordability


We analyse subjective experiences of energy poverty to address the limitations of existing observable indicators as evidence for policy. We investigate the linkage between self-reported energy affordability and life satisfaction, health and economic inequality. A large-scale survey of 100,956 respondents across 37 nations shows that energy affordability concerns individuals in both developing and developed nations. Self-reported (perceived) values do not necessarily follow previous research and vary according to regional, economic, development and cultural factors. Contrasting this evidence with national-level data, such as healthy life expectancy and government spending on health and welfare, we identify associations between self-reported outcomes, income levels and national policy. Although national welfare spending can reduce the perceived economic gap, high income is not necessarily associated with better perceived satisfaction, health or economic outcomes. Enhancing energy access may lead to improved health outcomes in the most marginalized nations; however, lifestyle and cultural factors also play a role. Although the outcomes of less-developed nations can likely improve through development aid from more-developed nations, our results show that cultural and other factors underpin satisfaction in developing nations, which experience comparatively poorer life satisfaction. We identified that some nations had superior outcomes for health and life satisfaction despite lower income levels. This highlights the need for further research to uncover non-income-based factors that underlie life satisfaction and health, such as community connectedness or familial factors.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Study design.
Fig. 2: Self-reported energy affordability outcomes.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


  1. 1.

    Rao, N. D. & Pachauri, S. Energy access and living standards: some observations on recent trends. Environ. Res. Lett. 12, 025011 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Welsch, H. & Biermann, P. Energy affordability and subjective well-being: evidence for European countries. Energy J. 38, 159–176 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    González-Eguino, M. Energy poverty: an overview. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 47, 377–385 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2018);

  5. 5.

    The Sustainable Development Agenda (UN, 2018);

  6. 6.

    McCollum, D. L. et al. Connecting the sustainable development goals by their energy inter-linkages. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 033006 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Nilsson, M., Griggs, D. & Visback, M. Map the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals. Nature 534, 320–322 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Hills, J. Getting the Measure of Fuel Poverty. Final Report of the Fuel Poverty Review: Summary and Recommendations (CASE, 2012);

  9. 9.

    Tsurumi, T., Imauji, A. & Managi, S. Greenery and subjective well-being: assessing the monetary value of greenery by type. Ecol. Econ. 148, 152–169 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Solaymani, S. Impacts of energy subsidy reform on poverty and income inequality in Malaysia. Qual. Quant. 50, 2707–2723 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Thomson, H., Snell, C. & Bouzarovski, S. Health, well-being and energy poverty in Europe: a comparative study of 32 European countries. Int. J. Environ. Res. Pub. Health 14, 584 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Plouffe, R. A. & Tremblay, P. F. The relationship between income and life satisfaction: does religiosity play a role? Pers. Individ. Differ. 109, 67–71 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Morrison, M., Tay, L. & Diener, E. Subjective well-being and national satisfaction findings from a worldwide survey. Psychol. Sci. 22, 166–171 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Jagodzinski, W. Economic, social, and cultural determinants of life satisfaction: are there differences between Asia and Europe? Soc. Indic. Res. 97, 85–104 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Oishi, S. & Gilbert, E. A. Current and future directions in culture and happiness research. Curr. Opin. Psychol. 8, 54–58 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    World Development Indicators: Access to Electricity, Current Health Expenditure (% of GDP) (World Bank, 2018);

  17. 17.

    OECD.Stat: Social Expenditure—Aggregated Data (OECD, 2018);

  18. 18.

    World Health Statistics: Life Expectancy (WHO, 2018);

  19. 19.

    World Health Statistics: Healthy Life Expectancy (WHO, 2018);

  20. 20.

    Atalla, T., Gualdi, S. & Lanza, A. A global degree days database for energy-related applications. Energy 143, 1048–1055 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Heink, U. et al. Conceptualizing credibility, relevance and legitimacy for evaluating the effectiveness of science-policy interfaces: challenges and opportunities. Sci. Publ. Policy 42, 676–689 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Kahneman, D. & Deaton, A. High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 16489–16493 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Jebb, A., Tay, L., Diener, E. & Oishi, O. Happiness, income satiation and turning points around the world. Nat. Hum. Behav. 2, 33–38 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Bouzarovski, S., Petrova, S. & Sarlamanov, R. Energy poverty policies in the EU: a critical perspective. Energy Policy 49, 76–82 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Okushima, S. Gauging energy poverty: a multidimensional approach. Energy 137, 1159–1166 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Meyer, S., Laurence, H., Bart, D., Middlemiss, L. & Maréchal, K. Capturing the multifaceted nature of energy poverty: lessons from Belgium. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 40, 273–283 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Wang, K., Wang, Y. X., Li, K. & Wei, Y. M. Energy poverty in China: an index based comprehensive evaluation. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 47, 308–323 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Deller, D. Energy affordability in the EU: the risks of metric driven policies. Energy Policy 119, 168–182 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Boyce, D & Wirfs-Brock, J. High utility costs force hard decisions for the poor. Inside Energy (8 May 2016);

  30. 30.

    Welsch, H. & Kühling, J. Using happiness data for environmental valuation: issues and applications. J. Econ. Surv. 23, 385–406 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Coverage in Internet Surveys: Who Web-only Surveys Miss and How That Affects Results (Pew Research Center, 2015);

  32. 32.

    Alari, P. Income Underreporting Based on Income Expenditure Gaps: Survey vs Tax Records ISER Working Paper No. 2015-15 (ISER, 2015).

  33. 33.

    Hurst, E., Li, G. & Pugsley, B. Are household surveys like tax forms? Evidence from income underreporting of the self-employed. Rev. Econ. Stat. 96, 19–33 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was funded by a Grant-in-Aid for Specially Promoted Research (grant no. 26000001) by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and by the Strategic Research Program and Environmental Economics Research Fund of the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.

Author information




All authors contributed to the design of this study. A.C. and H.F. wrote the manuscript and undertook the analysis with guidance from S.M. S.M. guided the design and conduct of the surveys.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew Chapman.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–5

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chapman, A., Fujii, H. & Managi, S. Multinational life satisfaction, perceived inequality and energy affordability. Nat Sustain 2, 508–514 (2019).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing