Does Who You Know Satisfy or Dissatisfy Your Life? Social Capital, Social Cost, and Relational Culture in Three Societies

Lijun Song


Does who you know in the status hierarchy satisfy or dissatisfy your life? Does that effect vary by culture and society? To addresses these two questions, this study applies four theories and analyzes the association between accessed status (network members’ status) and life satisfaction using nationally representative retrospective data from three societies (the United States, urban China, and Taiwan). Social capital theory expects absolute and relative higher accessed status (network members’ higher status relative to individuals’) to improve life satisfaction and relative lower accessed status to diminish life satisfaction. Social cost theory asserts the opposite. The collectivistic advantage explanation anticipates social capital theory to apply more to urban China and Taiwan than social cost theory and social cost theory to apply more to the United States than social capital theory. The collectivistic disadvantage explanation predicts the opposite. This study measures nine indicators of absolute and relative accessed status on the occupational dimension and six domain-specific satisfactions. Varying by indicator of accessed status and life domain, results support both social capital theory and social cost theory in all three societies. There is tentatively more evidence for the collectivistic disadvantage explanation across the three societies. Social capital theory receives relatively more confirmation than social cost theory in the United States, while the opposite applies to urban China and Taiwan. Theoretical and methodological implications are discussed.

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