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Impact of Culture on Life Satisfaction of Students

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Published: Fri, 23 Feb 2018

ABSTRACT

Defining culture by reference to deeply situated societal values and beliefs, this study makes three contributions to the growing field of satisfaction research: first, it tries to uncover the relationship between international students’ life satisfaction and cultural life satisfaction across different cultures; Second, it explores whether and to what extent a range of cultural values serve as important moderators of international students’ life satisfaction; Finally, it explains the Life Satisfaction differences between international students across five nations (India, Africa, China, United Kingdom and Turkey). A total of 100 international students from the University of Northampton participated in this study. Analysis of the present study is based on data from two surveys. The first is the Diener’s Satisfaction with Life Survey (SWL) to measure international students’ overall satisfaction with life across nations. The second is the cultural satisfaction survey which includes the six determinants of cultural factors: satisfaction in general, job, social relationships, health services, authority services and public safety. Using both Pearson and Partial correlation coefficient, statistical analysis showed that except for the General Satisfaction section ‘p’ value is more than 0.05 (p>0.05) for each of the subsections. In addition, hypothesis one showed that there is not any correlation between Life Satisfaction and Cultural Satisfaction amongst International Students. Therefore, null hypothesis is accepted. One-Way between subjects ANOVAs enables us to partially accept hypothesis 2, which states there will be a difference in CS between International Students from different countries. Statistical results of one-way ANOVAs also accepted Hypothesis 3, which states there will be a difference in LS between International Students from different nationalities as well. According to these results, Hypothesis 2 is partially accepted because four out of the six subsections of the CS (General and Job Satisfaction) showed these differences. These results show the importance of the cultural determinants of the social relationship, health, authority and public safety satisfaction play a particularly prominent role on individuals’ Life Satisfaction. Finally, based on the Diener’s SWL (Diener et al, 1984) and cultural life satisfaction survey, the empirical results show that several cultural values are indeed very significant influences on individuals’ assessment of their life satisfaction.

INTRODUCTION

Psychological research during the past two decades has revealed cultural differences across a wide range of domains. These studies focus on several factors such as what are people’s desires, wants, and needs, and which life domains are decisive in an overall evaluation of living conditions? Does the quality of a society in which a person lives play a significant role? As a result most psychologists are now keenly aware that the way people in different cultures think, feel, and act are, in varying degrees, different.

International students have in recent years come to constitute a large proportion of the world-wide student body in higher learning institutions. There are hardly any countries that are unaffected by the presence of international students in its institutions of higher learning, or the pressure to send some of its own students to study abroad (Paige, 1990). Current estimates suggest that up to 1 million students annually study in countries other than their own (Open Doors, 1996/97). One rationale behind the increasing number of international students is the assumption that students can serve both as cultural ambassadors and resources (Klineberg, 1970; Mestenhauser, 1983; Paige, 1990), and as links between cultures (Eide, 1970). It has also been assumed that these cultural links could help reduce inter-group tension, prejudice, hostility and discriminatory behaviour, and to help increase international understanding and co-operation (Amir, 1969; Baron and Bachman, 1987; Fulbright, 1976). These assumptions, however, have not always been supported. On the contrary mental health problems such as depression, psychosomatic complaints, anxiety and paranoid reactions (Jou and Fukada, 1997a and b; Sam and Eide, 1991; Ward, 1967; Ying and Liese, 1991) have been suggested to characterise international students. These are in addition to socio-cultural problems (e.g., language difficulties, difficulties in negotiating day-to-day social activities and, racial and ethnic discrimination) (Furnham and Bochner, 1982; Kagan and Cohen, 1990; Ward and Kennedy, 1993) and academic problems such as failure (Aich, 1963; Barker et al., 1991) have been documented as characterising international students’ overseas sojourn.

Life Satisfacion (LS) has been defined as ”a global evaluation by the person of his or her life” (Pavot et al., 1991, p. 150), and has been identified as a key aspect of quality of life and Subjective Well Being (SWB) (Mannel and Dupuis 1996). SWB is a way of defining a good life, and is often referred to as happiness. People who experience abundant SWB have many pleasures and few pains, and they feel satisfied with their lives (Diener, 2000). Satisfaction also refers to the cognitive/judgemental aspects of SWB (Neto, 1995). Diener and his colleagues (1999) argued that, SWB and happiness, has both an affective (i.e., emotional) and a cognitive (i.e., judgmental) component. The affective component consists of how frequently an individual reports experiencing positive and negative effects. In addition to this, previous research (Diener et al., 1999) has found college students consider happiness and LS to be extremely important, and there is evidence that increased LS impacts upon academic performance in college students (Rode et al., 2005). Research has shown that increased LS and happiness may be related to goal progression (Emmons, 1986), close social relationships (Myers, 2000), and being involved in flow activities (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Moreover, Veenhoven (1991) uses the definition of LS as “the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of his life as a whole favourably.” (1991: 10). This idea emphasises satisfaction with one’s life, implies contentment with or acceptance of one’s life circumstances, or the fulfilment of one’s wants and needs for one’s life as a whole.

Furthermore, the need satisfaction model (Maslow, 1970; McClelland, 1961) and the spill over (Diener, 1984;Wilensky, 1960) theories provide useful frameworks to conceptualise the processes that underlie happiness in a life domain. The basic premise of the need satisfaction model is that people have basic needs they seek to fulfil in each life domain. Individuals derive satisfaction in a particular life domain when events and experience related to that domain fulfil their needs. Therefore, this model seems to suggest that people who are successful in satisfying their needs are likely to enjoy greater SWB than those who are less successful. For example, a person reports high satisfaction of her health life domain based on positive experiences concerning health-related activities such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and attention to medical needs. Moreover, the spill over theories of quality of life are viewed as having two broad types; bottom-up and top-down theories. Firstly, bottom-up theories assume that LS is a summary evaluation of aspects of one’s life. For example, one is satisfied with life because one has good social relationships, enough money, weight under control, and an interesting job (Choi et al., 2007; George and Landerman, 1984; Larsen, 1978). Secondly, top-down theories assume that LS is due to personality influences. For example, a neurotic individual is more dissatisfied in general with his or her job, social relationships, weight, and income in particular ( Shepard, 1974; Kremer and Harpaz, 1982).

Although there may be some agreement about the important qualities of the “good life,” with considerations like health and successful relationships, each individual assigns different values to these factors (Diener et al., 1985). Each person has his or her own values, criteria, and basis for evaluation. Furthermore, considerable research effort has been devoted to the study of adult’s perception of the quality of their lives, including LS judgements. LS research is supported by the variety of measures appropriate for adults, such as the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener et al., 1985; Pavot and Diener, 1993), Quality of Life Inventory (Frisch et al., 1992), Life Satisfaction Index (Neugarten et al., 1961), and the Salamon-Conte LS in the Elderly Scale (Salamon and Conte, 1984).

Several studies have been carried out regarding LS and the results of these studies emphasise that LS is related to different factors. A great deal of psychological research has explored the sources of people’s LS. Due to variation in the characteristics of the included samples such as age, gender or culture – questions which are commonly found in questionnaires – as well as included indicators, different factors have been found to be associated with LS. Campbell (1981) indicates that there are at least 12 domains involved in contributing to LS. These are health, finances, family relations, paid employment, friendships, housing, living partner, recreational activity, religion, self-esteem, transportation, and education (Campbell, 1981). Specific cultural and social factors also have been found to play an important role in determining LS and happiness (Triandis, 2000). LS is used worldwide in research including adults, young people, students, older people etc. (Baiyewu and Jegede 1992; Hilleras et al. 2001b,Neugarten et al. 1961; Vitterso et al. 2002; Wood et al. 1969) and is supposed to be a useful outcome variable in different countries.

Cultural context is an important element that influences an individual’s cognitive evaluation of one’s life. Culture affects people in a variety of basic psychological domains, including self-concept, attribution and reasoning, interpersonal communication, negotiation, intergroup relations, and psychological well-being (Brewer & Chen, 2007; Fiske et al., 1998; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Oyserman et al., 2002). Sociologists and social psychologists are interested in socio-demographic patterns that emerge when people evaluate their overall living conditions (Veenhoven 1984; Argyle 1999; Headey and Wearing 1992; Hagerty et al. 2000; Glatzer and Zapf 1984). However, socio-demographic factors account for less than 20% of the variance of SWB, a finding confirmed in several studies (Campbell et al. 1976; Andrews and Withey 1976; Diener and Suh 1997). Many efforts have been made to analyse determinants of LS and researchers from several disciplines illuminate this subject from different perspectives. The study revealed that the standard of living, access to employment, job satisfaction, marriage, social relationships, social networks, and health were the most decisive factors when explaining variations in LS within countries. Previous research also indicate that these factors have a positive impact on individuals LS (Diener et al. 1999) with results also showing that individuals with high LS have such benefits including physical health, mental health, good interpersonal relationships, and educational and vocational success (Frisch, 2000; Park, 2003, 2004; Veenhoven, 1989).

More recently, economists have shown an interest in explaining LS outcomes with respect to reported SWB as a proxy for individual utility. They primarily focus on cross-country comparisons, the question of marginal utility of income, and the relationship between absolute and relative levels of income on SWB (Frey and Stutzer 2002a, b; Oswald 1997; Layard 2005). Moreover, LS differs a great deal between individuals and between European countries. The previous study within the enlarged European Union shows average LS in 2003, measured on a scale from 1 (very dissatisfied) to 10 (very satisfied), ranged from 8.38 in Denmark to 4.41 in Bulgaria. In every country high income goes hand in hand with higher LS scores. However, poor people in Denmark are nevertheless more satisfied than rich people in Bulgaria. The large differences in the overall level of LS between old and new member states have so far been explained with reference to the level of economic prosperity in each country (Fahey and Smyth 2004). Moreover, several studies have pointed out that poorer countries tend to possess lower LS than richer ones. To support this idea, Leelakulthanit and Day (1993) compared the LS scores of Americans and Thai’s. The results showed that Americans were more satisfied with their lives than Thai’s. Similarly, Diener et al., (1995) investigated LS among American, Korean, and Chinese college students. The results of the study illustrated that American college students scored more highly on LS, positive feelings and influential factors (e.g., income and wealth of the countries) than both Chinese and Korean college students. The results of these studies emphasized that the countries with high qualities (such as income, wealth, education) have higher LS scores than the countries who have low quality of standards . Conversely, Heady et al. (2004) instead analysed household panel data for five countries and found the happiness measure to be considerably more affected by economic factors than found in most of the earlier literature. The economic factors in the study include wealth and consumption expenditures and among the findings are that wealth has a stronger impact on happiness than income and that non-durable consumption expenditures are as important for happiness as income. Recent cross-country studies have therefore returned to this issue, questioning the insignificance of economic factors, which led to a heated debate in Social Science Indicators between Richard Easterlin, who defended the standard conclusion that average income does not matter, and Michael Hagerty and Ruud Veenhoven, who opposed this and argued that positive happiness trends in most nations were caused by income growth (Hagerty and Veenhoven 2003; Easterlin 2005; Veenhoven and Hagerty 2006).

Moreover, a number of previous studies exposed evidence about health playing a critical role in overall LS. In fact, health has long been viewed as one of the major factors to LS as previous studies have found that health plays a crucial role on individuals’ LS (Linn et al., 1988; Michalos, Zumbo, & Hubley, 2000; Okun et al., 1984; Parkerson, Broadhead, & Tse, 1990). Additionally, a number of previous studies have examined the relationship between LS and health factors such as obesity, alcohol use, suicidal thoughts, physical activity, stress, and academic performance in different populations. For example, the study of the Moum (1996) found that people who score high on LS measures are less likely to attempt suicide. Lewinsohn et al., (1991) also pointed out that people who score high on LS are less likely to become depressed in the future . Several researches have also examined that LS is related to healthy behaviours in a number of different populations (Kelly, 2004; Rudolf & Watts, 2002; Valois, Zullig, Huebner, & Drane, 2004b). To support this idea, Statistics Canada Web Site (2009), found that Canadians’ LS was related to their health. The statistics showed that people who were satisfied with their lives reported that their health was excellent (62.5%) and only 8.4% of people who were satisfied with life reported poor health. Conversely, of those people who were not satisfied with their lives, 54.2% reported that their health was poor. As a result, this study found that weak levels of health are directly related to low levels of satisfaction with life, low levels of morality, and low levels of satisfaction. This study also stresses that public health provisions have an important role on the improvements of individuals’ quality of life. For example, Life expectancy in France or Germany has risen sharply. However, this improvement is not due to high-technology. These countries attach importance to improve the quality of health in urban sanitation. The main aim here is relatively low-cost treatment (for example; antibiotics for childrens’ ear infections) (Deaton, 2008).

From the past to the present, a great deal of psychological research has explored the sources of people’s LS. These sources include one’s overall wealth, whether one is single or married, male or female (Gold et al., 2002; Murtagh & Hubert, 2004), or young or old (Diener, 1984; Mercier et al., 1998; Prenda & Lachman, 2001) A few studies have investigated international undergraduate students’ Satisfaction with Life (SWL) in the pattern of culture associates. Definition of the SWL emphasises the individual’s own Quality of Life (QoL) based on their selected standards (Shin and Johnson, 1978). Each individual’s decisions about their own particular criteria of their QoL can help them to judge and establish their own SWL (Diener et al., 1985). This shows that one’s SWL is not a universally determined criteria of QoL, because each individual is judging their SWL by their own evaluation of the QoL. This is one of the important reasons to focus on people of diverse ethnic background and their different values and perceptions of what may characterise “the good life” (Diener et al., 1985).

Another important reason to study SWL and Culture across different nations is based on cultural factors (such as one’s quality of life) that play an important role on individuals’ happiness. Veenhoven (1991) found that living in an economically prosperous country where freedom and democracy are respected; political stability; being a part of a majority rather than a minority; being toward the top of the social ladder; being married and having good relationships with family and friends; being mentally and physically healthy; being active and open minded; feeling in control of one’s life; having aspirations in social and moral matters rather than money-making and being politically conservative are significantly related with individuals’ happiness rather than unhappiness.

Moreover, other researchers have established that individuals from different cultures have different levels of economic and social satisfactions with their Jobs. For example, people who have the same jobs but who live in different countries might have different levels of job satisfaction because of cultural influences (Cranny et al., 1992; Gallie & Russell, 1998). This signifies that both economic (money) and social (interest) satisfaction with work, such as individuals’ quality of their working styles, experiences and achievements, is another very important component of individuals’ overall SWL (Frijters et al., 2003; Kraft 2000).

Furthermore, health is a subjective phenomenon manifested as the experience of wellness/illness based on individuals’ evaluations of how they are feeling and doing. There are variety of factors on an individual’s health satisfaction which have been related to their LS such as weight (Ball et al., 2004), alcohol use (Murphy et al., 2005), stress (Schnohr et al., 2005), and physical activity (Valois, Zullig, Huebner, & Drane, 2004b) These have been shown to be related to life satisfaction in different populations. The relationship between LS and various aspects of perceived health has been investigated in different nations because in different cultures people have different health institutions and services which can affect both their QoL and SWL. Previous researchers found that there is a positive relationship between subjective health and LS (Arrindell et al., 1999; Lohr et al., 1988; Rapkin & Fischer, 1992; Willits & Crider, 1988).

The information above supports that to study both SWL and culture have been useful in illuminating how individuals differ in their SWL from different nations and the role of culture. A Number of studies emphasize that culture affects individuals from several basic psychological domains. For example, attribution and reasoning, intergroup relations, interpersonal communication, self-concept, negotiation, and psychological well-being (Brewer & Chen, 2007; Fiske et al., 1998; Lehman et al., 2004; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Oyserman et al., 2002).

From the theory and research presented in this review, it can be seen that cultural factors are the integrative parts of the LS. According to this, this study will focus on the Culture and LS amongst international students to see whether culture plays an important role on the undergraduate students LS from five different cultures. The specific aims of the study are three-fold. Firstly, it determines whether there is a relationship between international students’ LS and CS amongst five different countries. Secondly, it specifies whether the international students have differences in CS in general factors (i.e. quality of services/ city/life etc.), social relationships, job satisfaction, health, authority and public safety across five different countries. Thirdly, it explores whether there is an LS difference between International Students from five different countries which are China, India, UK, Turkey and Nigeria. In this study, I will focus on more cross-cultural phenomenon of the students’ satisfaction as well as its link with cross-cultural differences in the bases of LS (Schimmack et al., 2002; Suh et al., 1998) and provide tests of an empirically supported explanation for the differences. When people construct judgments about their overall LS, different cultural members place relative emphasis on different aspects of life.

Therefore the hypotheses for this study are:

  1. There will be correlation between LS and CS amongst International Students from five different countries .
  2. There will be a difference in CS between International Students from five different countries
  3. There will be a difference in LS between International Students from five different countries.

METHOD SECTION

Participants

A total of 100 students from the University of Northampton (UCN) in Northampton participated in the study. The sample for the current study comprised of 100 students, with twenty participants from each of the five nations India, Africa, China, United Kingdom and Turkey. Participants were selected from these five countries because many students from these countries came across to study in the University of Northampton. All participants were more than 18 years of age. Both males and females between the ages of 18-25 were selected. Each participant was required to complete both Questionnaire Section A of Life Satisfaction and Section B of the Cultural Satisfaction (see Appendix 2). All student participation was voluntary.

Apparatus/Measurements

The measures for the study were either taken directly or with modification from existing scales as described below. With the exception of the Satisfaction With Life Scale, all the items reported here were answered on a 5-point Likert Scale.

Life Satisfaction : Global life satisfaction was measured by the Satisfaction With Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985) to measure the life satisfaction of the international undergraduate students. The SWLS is a five-item inventory with a 7-point scale. The five items used to measure satisfaction with life are : (a) In most ways my life is close to ideal; (b) The conditions of my life are excellent; (c) I am satisfied with my life; (d) So far I have gotten the important things I want in life; and (e) If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing. Participants respond to each item on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), yielding a possible total score ranging from 5 to 35 (see appendix 2).

Satisfaction With Culture: Participants’ cultural life satisfaction was measured by questions both from Quality of Life Satisfaction Survey (2003) (QLS) (cited in Delhey, 2004) and the 2006 General User Satisfaction Survey (GUSS) (Torbay Council, 2006). Researcher also prepared some of the questions. The Satisfaction with Culture survey is a 70-item Likert scale designed to measure international students’ cultural satisfaction within six cultural life domains: general, social relationships, job satisfaction, health perception, authority and public safety were considered important influences on individuals’ life satisfaction. Participants respond to each item on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) (see appendix 2).

General : The general questions about the cultural life satisfaction, which consists of twenty-three out of the 70 items, was added to the beginning of the Cultural life satisfaction scale in order to measure general life satisfaction about the cultural factors. The researcher also prepared the questions from 1 to 19. However, questions 20 to 23 from the general section were obtained from QLS. Students were expected to respond to each item based on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Examples of items are ‘It is a good place to live, overall quality of life in the city, water quality, noise etc.” However, nine items were measured on an ordinal scale that assessed satisfaction with current state of general services (e.g. health services, public transport, education system etc.). Participants again respond to each item on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (poor) to 5 (very high). Higher values indicate higher LS.

Social Relationships : To achieve a high level of joy and happiness in life, people must be socially involved with people. This involves getting along well with others, having friends and companions, and offering help to those who need it. This part evaluates international students social relationships in their home countries through sixteen items. However, five questions about the tensions between different groups were obtained from QLS. Scoring goes from 1 to 5, where 1 corresponds to the answer ”Very many tensions” and 5 to ”No tension at all”. Moreover, eleven questions consisted of general problems about parents, children, teenagers etc. These eleven questions were also prepared by the Researcher. Statements such as “parents not taking responsibility for the behaviour of their children”, “noisy neighbours or loud parties” and “people being attacked because of their skin colour, ethnic origin or religion” etc. The items were also based on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (a very big problem) to 5 (not a problem at all).

Job Satisfaction: In this section questions asked students to evaluate their overall Job satisfaction and financial situation. Questions in the Job Satisfaction section were adapted from QLS. A list of seven items was constructed to measure the job satisfaction variable. Items were presented on a 5- point Likert scale ranging from ”strongly agree” to ”strongly disagree”. Items included ” My work is dull and boring” , ” I am well paid”, and “My job offers good prospects for career advancement” etc.

Health Perception : The health perception variable was measured on a Likert scale that assessed satisfaction with current state of health services in international students’ countries. This section consisted of eight items. Questions 1 to 4 from the health section were obtained from QLS. However, questions from 5 to 8 were obtained from GUSS. Items were presented on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from ”very satisfied” to ”very dissatisfied” where 1 corresponds to the answer ”very dissatisfied” and 5 to ”very satisfied”, and included statements such as “waiting time to see doctor on day of appointment”, “Quality of Hospitals” and “Deal with patients” etc.

Authority: The authority section consists of seven items. Question 1 and 7 from the authority section were adapted from GUSS . Also, questions 2 to 6 were prepared by the researcher . The items were rated on a 5-point Likert scale, and included statements such as “how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with each of the following services provided or supported by your country City Council such as; Sports/leisure facilities and events, libraries, museum, galleries, theatre etc”. Scoring goes from 1 to 5, where 1 corresponds to the answer ”strongly disagree” and 5 to ”strongly agree”.

Public Safety: Public safety questions about the cultural life satisfaction, which consists of nine items. Questions in the Public Safety section were prepared by the researcher. Questions include “how safe do you feel walking in your neighbourhood during the day?” and “how safe do you feel walking in your neighbourhood after dark?” etc. The responses were based on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from very unsafe to very safe, and 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Procedure

Before the experiment participants were asked to read the standardised instructions (see appendix 3 ) and to give their consent verbally. According to the standardised instructions, participants were fully informed what the study was going to investigate. The standard instructions informed the students of the purpose of the study; that participation was voluntary and the responses were going to be treated confidentially. Also, it explained the details of what participants would have to do and were allowed to ask any questions. Experimenters informed the participants that the aim of the study was to investigate whether there is a relation between participants’ general life satisfaction and cultural life satisfaction. By giving their consent to taking part in the study, they were agreeing to be involved in this study and were then asked to sign the consent form (see appendix 4) and read the brief (see appendix 4). After that, participants were asked to fill in the questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of two sections; section A and section B. Section A was about the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener et al., 1985) to measure life satisfaction. The scale comprises of five-items and the responses were made on a 7-point agree-disagree Likert scale (Diener et al., 1985). On the other hand, section B was about cultural life satisfaction (Questions were obtained from QoL). The Satisfaction with Culture survey is a 70-item Likert scale and was designed to measure international students’ cultural satisfaction. The scale provides scores for six dimensions namely for the participants satisfaction with their nations. The six sections of the cultural satisfaction are: general, social relationships, job satisfaction, health perception, authority and public safety considered important on individuals cultural life satisfaction. According to participants’ responses, negative scores indicate dissatisfaction, whereas positive scores indicate satisfaction of the specific domain for the individual’s life satisfaction. In this experiment, participants were not timed. Therefore, all the participants had the same life satisfaction and cultural satisfaction scale. Participants were also aware that they were allowed to withdraw at anytime without giving reason. After the experiment, the experimenter gave the participants a cue sheet which consisted of a brief explanation of what the study was about and the experimenter’s e-mail address (see appendix 5). Also, each Life satisfaction scale had the participant number recorded on the top of the paper so, if the participants’ changed their minds and wanted to retract their results from the study, they could email the experimenter and give their paper number by 01-01-2010. Also, participants were allowed to ask any questions. There was no deception of the participants in this study. Finally, no personal data was requested. As a result, the participants were anonymous . Questionnaires will be kept confidential and securely kept in the locked answers cupboard.

Design

This study was performed to determine the relation between culture and life satisfaction. The dependent variable of the study was the life satisfaction and the independent variable was culture. In this experiment, participants were sampled around the university campus and each participant received only one questionnaire. All experime


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