OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being

OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being You or your institution have access to this content

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Publication Date :
20 Mar 2013
Pages :
9789264191655 (PDF) ; 9789264191648 (print)

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Being able to measure people’s quality of life is fundamental when assessing the progress of societies. There is now widespread acknowledgement that measuring subjective well-being is an essential part of measuring quality of life alongside other social and economic dimensions. As a first step to improving the measures of quality of life, the OECD has produced Guidelines which provide advice on the collection and use of measures of subjective well-being.  These Guidelines have been produced as part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, a pioneering project launched in 2011, with the objective to measure society’s progress across eleven domains of well-being, ranging from jobs, health and housing, through to civic engagement and the environment.

These Guidelines represent the first attempt to provide international recommendations on collecting, publishing, and analysing subjective well-being data. They provide guidance on collecting information on people's evaluations and experiences of life, as well as on collecting "eudaimonic" measures of psychological well-being. The Guidelines also outline why measures of subjective well-being are relevant for monitoring and policy making, and why national statistical agencies have a critical role to play in enhancing the usefulness of existing measures. They identify the best approaches for measuring, in a reliable and consistent way, the various dimensions of subjective well-being, and provide guidance for reporting on such measures. The Guidelines also include a number of prototype survey modules on subjective well-being that national and international agencies can use in their surveys.

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  • Click to Access:  Foreword

    Understanding and improving well-being requires a sound evidence base that can inform policy-makers and citizens alike where, when, and for whom life is getting better. These Guidelines have been produced under the OECD’s Better Life Initiative – a pioneering project launched in 2011, which aims to measure society’s progress across eleven domains of well-being, ranging from income, jobs, health, skills and housing, through to civic engagement and the environment. Subjective well-being – i.e. how people think about and experience their lives – is an important component of this overall framework. To be most useful to governments and other decision-makers, however, subjective well-being data need to be collected with large and representative samples and in a consistent way across different population groups and over time.

  • Click to Access:  Acknowledgments

    This report is published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the OECD. The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Organisation or of the governments of its member countries.

  • Click to Access:  Overview and recommendations

    These guidelines provide advice on the collection and use of measures of subjective well-being. They are intended to provide support for national statistical offices and other producers of subjective well-being data in designing, collecting, and publishing measures of subjective well-being. In addition, the guidelines are designed to be of value to users of information on subjective well-being.

  • Click to Access:  Introduction

    Notions of subjective well-being or happiness have a long tradition as central elements of quality of life, but until very recently these concepts were generally deemed beyond the scope of statistical measurement. Over the last two decades, however, an increasing body of evidence has shown that subjective well-being can be measured in surveys, that such measures are valid and reliable, and that they can usefully inform policy-making. This evidence has been reflected in an exponential growth in the economic literature on measures of subjective well-being.During the 1990s there was an average of less than five articles on happiness or related subjects each year in the journals covered by the Econlit database. By 2008 this had risen to over fifty.

  • Click to Access:  Concept and validity

    The main focus of this chapter is to set the conceptual scope for the measurement of subjective well-being and to provide an overview of what is currently known about the statistical quality of subjective well-being measures. The chapter covers what is meant by subjective well-being, its relevance and why it should be measured, and reviews the evidence on the validity of different types of subjective well-being measure.

  • Click to Access:  Methodological considerations in the measurement of subjective well-being

    The goal of the present chapter is to outline the available evidence on how survey methodology can affect subjective well-being measures and draw together what is currently known about good practice. The chapter focuses on aspects of survey design and methodology and is organised around five main themes: i) question construction; ii) response formats; iii) question context; iv) survey mode effects and wider survey context effects; and v) response styles and the cultural context in which a survey takes place. Each section is structured around the key measurement issues raised, the evidence regarding their impact, and the implications this has for survey methodology.

  • Click to Access:  Measuring subjective well-being

    This chapter aims to present best practice in measuring subjective well-being. It covers both the range of concepts to be measured and the best approaches for measuring them. This includes considering issues of sample design, survey design, data processing and coding and questionnaire design. In particular, the chapter presents a single primary measure intended to be collected consistently across countries, as well as a small group of core measures that it is desirable for data producers to collect where possible. Beyond this core suite of measures, the chapter provides more general advice to support data producers interested in identifying and measuring aspects of subjective well-being that will meet their particular research or policy needs, as well as a range of question modules relating to different aspects of subjective well-being.

  • Click to Access:  Output and analysis of subjective well‑being measures

    This chapter provides guidance regarding the release and use of subjective well-being data. It briefly re-caps the policy and public interest in the data (outlined in , Concept and validity), before covering how information can be reported and analysed. This includes the statistical outputs that may be released; basic information about the methods of analysis that may be adopted; and a discussion of key interpretive issues, placing particular emphasis on the extent to which levels of subjective well-being can be expected to vary in different circumstances.

  • Click to Access:  Illustrative examples of subjective well‑being measures

    i) The Cantril Ladder, or Cantril’s Ladder of Life Scale, as adopted in the Gallup World Poll (Bjørnskov, 2010):

  • Click to Access:  Question modules

    This module is intended to provide a minimal set of measures of subjective well-being covering both life evaluation and affect that could be included in household surveys. The core measures included here are the measures for which there is the strongest evidence for their validity and relevance, and for which international comparability is the most important. An experimental measure of an aspect of eudaimonic well-being is also included.

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