Measuring and Understanding Subjective Well-Being
Increasing attention is being paid in academic, policy, and public arenas to subjective measures of well-being. This promising trend represents a shift towards measuring positive outcomes in psychology and greater realism in the study of economic behaviour. After a general review of past and potential uses for subjective well-being data, and a discussion of why some economists have previously been sceptical of SWB data, we present global and Canadian examples from our own research to illustrate what can be learned. Differences in subjective well-being will be shown to be large and sustained across individuals, communities, provinces and nations. Although the patterns of subjective well-being are very different across Canada than across the world, we show that in both cases the differences can be fairly well accounted for by the same set of life circumstances. Our examples of policy-relevant research findings include new accountings of the differences in individual-level SWB assessments around the world and across Canada. These highlight the importance of social factors whose role has otherwise been hard to quantify in income-equivalent terms.
This paper includes material presented to, and benefits from discussions at, the OECD symposium on 'Measuring Subjective Well-Being: An Opportunity for National Statistical Offices?', Florence, July 2009. We are grateful to other presenters and participants for their insights and advice, to the Gallup Organization for access to the data from the Gallup World Poll, and to the Statistics Canada Research Data Centre at UBC for access to the full data files for GSS17. We are also grateful for the research collaboration of Shun Wang, Haifang Huang and Anthony Harris, and for the financial support of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (including a Junior Fellowship Award for C.P.B.-L.) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
John F. Helliwell & Christopher P. Barrington‐Leigh, 2010. "Viewpoint: Measuring and understanding subjective well‐being," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, vol 43(3), pages 729-753.