Introduction This study examines 13 year olds' life satisfaction cross-nationally and investigates variation in its relationship with family affluence, and the impact of national income and income inequality on this relationship.
Methods Data from the 2006 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children: WHO-collaborative Study (N =58 352 across 35 countries) were analysed using multilevel linear and logistic regression for outcome measures life satisfaction score and binary high / low life satisfaction.
Results National income and income inequality were associated with national mean life satisfaction score and prevalence of high life satisfaction. The relationship between life satisfaction and family affluence was curvilinear and varied cross-nationally, for example, family affluence was not related to life satisfaction in Denmark and France, while steep relationships were seen in England, Lithuania, Macedonia, Turkey and Romania. When the data were modelled simultaneously, GDP (PPP US$) and Gini were not in themselves associated with the life satisfaction, however this relationship varied depending on young people's relative affluence. Socioeconomic inequalities were greatest- steepest gradients were seen- in poorer countries (lower GDP (PPP US$) and in countries with unequal income distribution (higher Gini score).
Conclusions The data were collected prior to the global economic recession and therefore this study may have underestimated current socioeconomic inequalities in life satisfaction and international variation in inequalities. As adolescence is a critical period where many patterns of health and health behaviour are formed, this study highlights the importance of monitoring cross-national inequalities and identifying and addressing national mediating factors during this life stage.