Researchers examining connections between exposure to greenness and subjective wellbeing haven't always considered the possible influence of residential self-selection – that is, choosing where to live based on natural environment preferences. This study addressed this gap in the literature by exploring the way that residential self-selection concerning the natural environment can change the relationship between greenness exposure and subjective wellbeing.
This study was based on individual survey and street view greenness data relating to 4900 households in Beijing metropolitan areas. Street view image data, accessed from an online mapping platform, allowed researchers to quantify each household's exposure to greenness levels within a 1000-meter range. Survey data provided by an adult member from each household were analyzed in relation to four key categories: happiness, residential self-selection and realization, family composition, other sociodemographic characteristics. Happiness was used as a reflection of an individuals' subjective wellbeing. Residential realization refers to increased satisfaction with natural environment improvements in the residential area made over time.
An analysis of the data showed that greater greenness exposure was associated with greater subjective wellbeing. This finding is consistent with previous empirical studies. Also consistent with other studies are results showing that happiness is related to certain sociodemographic factors (including greater happiness being associated with higher household income). Unique to this study were findings related to residential preference attributes. The observed greenness-wellbeing connection was intensified for residents whose residential preferences were matched with their perceptions about natural environment. Residents become less happy, however, if their perceptions and residential natural environment preferences are not matched. These findings indicate that mismatched residential attributes change the relationship between greenness exposure and subjective wellbeing. Also unique to this study are findings relating to family composition characteristics. Families with more full-time workers and more school-aged children weren't necessarily happier in greener surroundings. Findings also showed clear differences in the greenness-wellbeing connection between “movers” (recently relocated residents) and “non-movers” (long-term residents). While mismatched residential attributes were related to lower subjective wellbeing for both movers and non-movers, long-term residents were more likely to be happy when they perceived positive natural environment changes over time (residential realizations).
While this study supports previous research showing that urban dwellers tend to be more satisfied when they live in neighborhoods with greater exposure to greenness, it also calls attention to the way residential self-selection and family composition characteristics can impact the greenness-wellbeing connection. With these findings in mind, city planners would do well to include an enriched “menu of exposures to greenness” in their urban development initiatives.