Air pollution lowers Chinese urbanites' expressed happiness on social media.


China Future City Lab, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and Center for Real Estate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA. [Email]


High levels of air pollution in China may contribute to the urban population's reported low level of happiness1-3. To test this claim, we have constructed a daily city-level expressed happiness metric based on the sentiment in the contents of 210 million geotagged tweets on the Chinese largest microblog platform Sina Weibo4-6, and studied its dynamics relative to daily local air quality index and PM2.5 concentrations (fine particulate matter with diameters equal or smaller than 2.5 μm, the most prominent air pollutant in Chinese cities). Using daily data for 144 Chinese cities in 2014, we document that, on average, a one standard deviation increase in the PM2.5 concentration (or Air Quality Index) is associated with a 0.043 (or 0.046) standard deviation decrease in the happiness index. People suffer more on weekends, holidays and days with extreme weather conditions. The expressed happiness of women and the residents of both the cleanest and dirtiest cities are more sensitive to air pollution. Social media data provides real-time feedback for China's government about rising quality of life concerns.