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Abstract

How do social processes affect wellbeing? This dissertation explores the relationships between social factors and happiness and health across different life stages and for different groups of people. In recent years, the subject of happiness has been relatively understudied in sociology and the field of happiness studies may benefit from a sociological approach. In part, this approach can take into account differences in everyday experiences and cultures that have previously been mostly ignored. The first part of the study focuses on differences in determinants of happiness for different racial groups. Using data from the General Social Survey of the United States, I first identify common determinants of happiness including marital status, education and church attendance. I then seek a better understanding of how determinants change for different racial groups. A main finding of the section is that while increasing education is associated positively with happiness for whites, increasing education has a negative association with happiness for blacks. The next section of the study focuses on determinants of health and happiness in older ages. Using data from 2 waves of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, I find that, unlike in younger ages, factors such as income do not matter as much for happiness. While social networks make a difference, the common measures of size and density matter less than emotional closeness and family-centric networks. The study of happiness can benefit from further sociological study. I conclude the dissertation with suggestions for future work to expand our understanding of how social processes and institutions can affect wellbeing for different populations.

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