Although there is abundant research on the relationship between demographics and specific domains of well-being, such as health [31, 32], this paper is one of the first to examine demographic differences in secure flourishing, or complete well-being. Only two variables predicted this outcome: Asian and the highest age category (51 years and older). However, Hispanics did have a higher level of flourishing when the financial security domain was excluded. We also disaggregated flourishing into six domains: emotional health, physical health, purpose, character strengths, social connectedness, and financial security. Relative to Whites, well-being levels are higher for Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics for most domains, except for financial security, which is lower for Blacks and Hispanics, and physical health, which is higher only for Asians. These results are consistent with the literature on the “paradox” of well-being among groups like Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics that experience high levels of social stressors but also higher levels of well-being [15, 27,28,29].
It is not uncommon for groups to score highly on some measures of well-being but not as satisfactorily on others. For example, one study found that Blacks had higher levels of psychological and social flourishing than Whites, but also higher levels of mortality . Similarly, our findings disclosed an advantage for Blacks and Hispanics on the psychosocial dimension of well-being, but an advantage for Whites on the material dimension of financial security ; see also  on materialist vs. postmaterialist concerns]. For our respondents, this distinction helps to account for why Blacks and Hispanics did not exhibit higher secure flourishing. Asians, on the other hand, reported a combination of advantages with regard to both psychosocial and material aspects of well-being, which resulted in a significantly higher score on flourishing and secure flourishing.
But complexity emerged even for the high-scoring Asians once we considered gender differences. As a group, Asian females had well-being scores that were always higher than the means for the total sample and the highest overall for three domains as well as the combined measure relative to the other racial/ethnic and gender groups. Asian males, on the other hand, actually scored lower than the total sample on social connections and character strengths, with the latter score being the lowest of all of the racial/ethnic and gender groups. Although this group generally reported greater flourishing on both the psychosocial and material dimensions, as well as on the combined measure, there may be value in further investigation of their lower than average scores on social connectedness and character strengths. Research on Asians has found that social connections are related to other aspects of physical and emotional well-being . Connections and character are likely related to each other as well, in light of the research finding that “strengths of the ‘heart’ (kindness, love) are consistently linked to happiness, whereas strengths of the ‘mind’ (curiosity, open-mindedness) are not” .
In other words, the character strengths that foster high quality relationships -- such as love, kindness, and social intelligence -- may be especially relevant over the life course as the luster of social status, intellectual accomplishments, and other strengths of the mind begin to fade. Culture is also an important consideration, as people from interdependent cultural backgrounds tend to value social harmony and emotional support from close others more than those from comparatively individualistic cultures [8, 37]. Our regression results did not find a gender difference in social connectedness, but previous research using different but related survey items indicated that women have higher scores on positive relations with others . Asian females in our sample had the highest score of any sub-group on social connectedness and a character strengths score that was, on average, over a half-point higher than Asian men. Although we are discussing a rather small group, the Asian men in our sample are quite financially secure (they scored the highest of any sub-group), but they also have lower scores on social connectedness and character strengths.
With the exception of physical health, respondents over 50 years of age had higher levels of well-being in all domains and on our two combined measures [38, 39]. This may be related to the robust finding that older adults are more likely enjoy their work, engage with collegial coworkers, and become employed in organizations in which they feel comfortable . In other words, our results may be partly a function of sampling only employed older adults, rather than including older adults who may have exited the job market due to health problems or high dissatisfaction with their work situation. In the general population, happiness appears to be declining for adults over 30 years of age, possibly due to increasing individualism adversely affecting social support . We found a U-shaped relationship for emotional health for those over 30 years old. Relative to our reference category (30 and under), respondents between 31 and 40 years had moderately higher emotional health, then there was a decline to non-significance between 41 and 50, followed by a strong significant effect for 51 and older. Although speculative, this pattern could be due to the aforementioned lack of social support adding to the stresses of parenting teenagers, the onset of a midlife crisis, and/or the “sandwich” (Miller, 1981) experience of having to care for both children and ailing parents, all of which may reach a peak between ages 41 and 50 and then move towards resolution.
This study is not without limitations. First, the sample was drawn from a single organization in a particular sector of the for-profit economy and therefore does not represent the broader population, which would include non-working adults as well as employees who selected a different economic sector (e.g., nonprofit, government, education, finance, hospitality). The oldest age groups, including retirees, are also not represented. Our sample was generally representative of the workforce at the organization under study, but our modest response rate is a further limitation, although it was well-within norms for survey research. Second, it is possible that the findings of this study may be biased due to unmeasured confounding. For immutable “givens” of life including those that we examined, adjusting for non-immutable factors assessed later in life (e.g., educational attainment, income) can be problematic if there is a reasonable likelihood that they might be intervening variables. Hence, we made an a priori decision not to adjust for socioeconomic, lifestyle, or work-related factors reported at the time of data collection (i.e., in adulthood). Nevertheless, it is often standard practice to include such factors and our results were largely, though not entirely, similar after adding these predictors. Furthermore, the analytic rigor of this study was limited by the type and quantity of survey items that were administered. The plausibility of the confounding control assumption might have been strengthened if we were able to retrospectively assess and adjust for potential confounds occurring prior to an individual’s conception .
A third limitation is that our findings were derived from a single time point and we do not know whether well-being levels for our respondents remain stable over time. Additionally, our findings are based on self-reports which may be inaccurate or biased by social desirability considerations. Prior research has uncovered that Eastern Asians score higher on the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability scale , and women generally display greater social desirability traits than men , which may partially account for the higher levels of well-being reported, across domains, among Asian Females. Future research can compare reported levels of well-being across a domain to a more objective measure, such as medical claims data for the physical health domain, as an example. We also had relatively small numbers for some of the groups, especially Asian, Black, and Hispanic men, given that over 80% of our sample was female. We were also not able to disaggregate our ethnic data into specific sub-groups (e.g., Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese). Future studies might also explore the relationship between neighborhood and domains of flourishing, especially in light of the well-established importance of place for domains such as physical health . Finally, it is important to assess the applicability of the domains of well-being across cultures, as the recently launched Global Flourishing Study, led by Gallup, Harvard University, and Baylor University, seeks to do.
Although it is important not to overgeneralize and we caution against using this study’s findings for applied purposes without carefully considering its limitations, we highlight some potential implications for practice. Our findings suggest that relatively brief, multidimensional measures of well-being could provide organizations with an opportunity to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how different groups of employees are doing in multiple key domains of life. Group differences in this study were heterogenous across domains of well-being, which would not have been revealed by more narrow or generalized measures of well-being. To illustrate, we found little evidence to suggest that males and females differed on secure flourishing, but a closer examination of the well-being domains indicated that females tended to score lower on the financial security domain and higher on the character strengths domain. By assessing and monitoring employee well-being more comprehensively, organizations that use surveys or other similar approaches to track employee flourishing might be better positioned to (1) identify domains of well-being that groups of employees might be most likely to benefit from receiving additional resources, (2) make well-informed decisions about the kinds of resources that they should make available to support the well-being of their workforce, and (3) assess the effectiveness of organizational resources in fulfilling objectives related to promoting employee well-being. For example, our findings suggest that, within the organizational context in which this study took place, employees below 31 years of age might be especially likely to benefit from resources aimed at fostering a sense of purpose in life compared to older employees. These kinds of insights are unlikely to be gleaned without using measures of multidimensional well-being, which would also be essential for gauging whether organizational resources dedicated to promoting a specific domain of well-being ultimately translate into improved functioning among the group of employees that the organization envisions would benefit the most from those resources.
As our literature review demonstrated, the relationships among demographics and different domains of well-being vary across studies and over time. There is support for a paradox of well-being among disadvantaged groups, although the findings are sometimes uneven. In order to design the most effective interventions to enhance well-being for specific groups, a more consistent body of research findings would be helpful. We have contributed to this project by examining the relationship between six important domains of complete well-being (secure flourishing) and the demographic “givens” of life. Our primary analytic strategy allowed us to avoid concerns about causal ordering in cross-sectional studies by excluding predictors that might be affected by our outcomes and we found that the distinction between psychosocial and material forms of well-being, also labeled materialist and postmaterialist , was helpful for understanding the experiences of different racial/ethnic groups. We hope that future research will incorporate these six domains, as well as others such as spiritual and communal well-being . This would provide a more comprehensive understanding of the well-being advantages, and challenges, associated with different demographic groups.