Single measure

The simplest approach sees well-being as a uni-dimensional concept. This implies that an individual’s well-being can be described with a single number. In other words collecting more than one data point for that individual, whilst perhaps improving the reliability of one’s measure, does not actually provide any more information about their well-being. The most popular manifestation of this approach has been the ‘evaluative’ approach to well-being (e.g. Ed Diener’s ‘satisfaction with life scale’).1 In this approach, an individual has high subjective well-being to the extent that they evaluate their life to be good, to the extent they have high life satisfaction. In the field of well-being measurement, this has perhaps the oldest pedigree, having begun with classic studies such as those of Richard Easterlin.2 Typically respondents are asked a question like this:

‘All things considered, how satisfied are you with life as a whole nowadays?’ (on a scale from 0-10)

Whilst seeming simplistic, this question passes the standard tests of statistical validity and reliability. In terms of reliability over time, for example, Fujita & Diener (2005) have found test-retest correlations over five years of r=0.51, which is a very high level for a subjective measure.3

In terms of the different types of validity:

Advantages and disadvantages

Before continuing, have a think about what you’ve just read and consider what you think might be the advantages and disadvantages of life satisfaction as a measure of well-being to be used by governments. After you’ve done so, click here to see the list that we’ve come up with:

Table 1.1. Some advantages and disadvantages of life satisfaction as a measure of well-being
Advantages Disadvantages
Easy to measure Simplistic
Easy to understand Determined by expectations
High validity within a given culture Cultural assumption that life satisfaction is the most important element of well-being
  Response biases (often cultural)
  Not transparent r.e. policy
  Insensitive

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Footnotes