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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
Rao, N. D. & Pachauri, S. Energy access and living standards: some observations on recent trends. Environ. Res. Lett. 12, 025011 (2017).
Welsch, H. & Biermann, P. Energy affordability and subjective well-being: evidence for European countries. Energy J. 38, 159–176 (2017).
González-Eguino, M. Energy poverty: an overview. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 47, 377–385 (2015).
Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2018); https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs
The Sustainable Development Agenda (UN, 2018); https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/
McCollum, D. L. et al. Connecting the sustainable development goals by their energy inter-linkages. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 033006 (2018).
Nilsson, M., Griggs, D. & Visback, M. Map the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals. Nature 534, 320–322 (2016).
Hills, J. Getting the Measure of Fuel Poverty. Final Report of the Fuel Poverty Review: Summary and Recommendations (CASE, 2012); http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/cr/CASEreport72.pdf
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).
Solaymani, S. Impacts of energy subsidy reform on poverty and income inequality in Malaysia. Qual. Quant. 50, 2707–2723 (2016).
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).
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).
Morrison, M., Tay, L. & Diener, E. Subjective well-being and national satisfaction findings from a worldwide survey. Psychol. Sci. 22, 166–171 (2011).
Jagodzinski, W. Economic, social, and cultural determinants of life satisfaction: are there differences between Asia and Europe? Soc. Indic. Res. 97, 85–104 (2010).
Oishi, S. & Gilbert, E. A. Current and future directions in culture and happiness research. Curr. Opin. Psychol. 8, 54–58 (2016).
World Development Indicators: Access to Electricity, Current Health Expenditure (% of GDP) (World Bank, 2018); https://databank.worldbank.org/data/source/world-development-indicators
OECD.Stat: Social Expenditure—Aggregated Data (OECD, 2018); https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=SOCX_AGG
World Health Statistics: Life Expectancy (WHO, 2018); https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/situation_trends/en/
World Health Statistics: Healthy Life Expectancy (WHO, 2018); https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/hale/en/
Atalla, T., Gualdi, S. & Lanza, A. A global degree days database for energy-related applications. Energy 143, 1048–1055 (2018).
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).
Kahneman, D. & Deaton, A. High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 16489–16493 (2010).
Jebb, A., Tay, L., Diener, E. & Oishi, O. Happiness, income satiation and turning points around the world. Nat. Hum. Behav. 2, 33–38 (2018).
Bouzarovski, S., Petrova, S. & Sarlamanov, R. Energy poverty policies in the EU: a critical perspective. Energy Policy 49, 76–82 (2012).
Okushima, S. Gauging energy poverty: a multidimensional approach. Energy 137, 1159–1166 (2017).
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).
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).
Deller, D. Energy affordability in the EU: the risks of metric driven policies. Energy Policy 119, 168–182 (2018).
Boyce, D & Wirfs-Brock, J. High utility costs force hard decisions for the poor. Inside Energy (8 May 2016); http://insideenergy.org/2016/05/08/high-utility-costs-force-hard-decisions-for-the-poor/
Welsch, H. & Kühling, J. Using happiness data for environmental valuation: issues and applications. J. Econ. Surv. 23, 385–406 (2009).
Coverage in Internet Surveys: Who Web-only Surveys Miss and How That Affects Results (Pew Research Center, 2015); http://www.pewresearch.org/2015/09/22/coverage-error-in-internet-surveys/
Alari, P. Income Underreporting Based on Income Expenditure Gaps: Survey vs Tax Records ISER Working Paper No. 2015-15 (ISER, 2015).
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).
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.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Chapman, A., Fujii, H. & Managi, S. Multinational life satisfaction, perceived inequality and energy affordability. Nat Sustain 2, 508–514 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0303-5
Impact of the Intra-household Education Gap on Wives’ and Husbands’ Well-Being: Evidence from Cross-Country Microdata
Social Indicators Research (2021)
Social Capital, Negative Event, Life Satisfaction and Sustainable Community: Evidence from 37 Countries
Applied Research in Quality of Life (2021)
How does air quality affect residents’ life satisfaction? Evidence based on multiperiod follow-up survey data of 122 cities in China
Environmental Science and Pollution Research (2021)
Nature Sustainability (2020)