Beyond Happiness and Satisfaction: Toward Well-Being Indices Based on Stated Preference

Daniel J. Benjamin, Ori Heffetz, Miles S. Kimball, Nichole Szembrot

NBER Working Paper No. 18374
Issued in September 2012
NBER Program(s):   AG   PE

This paper proposes foundations and a methodology for survey-based tracking of well-being. First, we develop a theory in which utility depends on "fundamental aspects" of well-being, measurable with surveys. Second, drawing from psychologists, philosophers, and economists, we compile a comprehensive list of such aspects. Third, we demonstrate our proposed method for estimating the aspects' relative marginal utilities--a necessary input for constructing an individual-level well-being index--by asking ~4,600 U.S. survey respondents to state their preference between pairs of aspect bundles. We estimate high relative marginal utilities not only for happiness and life satisfaction, but also for aspects related to family, health, security, values, and freedoms.

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This paper was revised on August 5, 2013

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18374

Published: Daniel J. Benjamin & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Nichole Szembrot, 2014. "Beyond Happiness and Satisfaction: Toward Well-Being Indices Based on Stated Preference," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(9), pages 2698-2735, September. citation courtesy of

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