HLEG thematic workshop on "Multidimensional Subjective Well-being", Glenn Everett, ONS
UK’s Experience: Measuring
Subjective (Personal) Well-being
Measuring National Well-being programme
30-31 October 2014
• Traditional measures of progress such as GDP are
increasingly considered an incomplete picture of the state of
• Additional economic, social and environmental measures are
needed alongside GDP to provide a complete picture of how
society is doing.
• UK’s Measuring National Well-being (MNW) Programme was
launched by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the
National Statistician in November 2010.
• MNW Programme started with a
national debate on ‘what matters to
• Aim: To gain basis and public support
for methods of measuring national well-being.
• Employed both conventional and
innovative methods of communicating.
• Debate has helped the ONS identify the
key areas that matter most
• Help to ensure that the measures we
use will be relevant, not only to
government, but also to the wider
Developing the domains and measures
• We listened…
…to the nearly 34,000 responses and considered relevant academic
research on the area.
• We have….
…developed a framework for measuring national well-being, including
• We used....
...the National Statistician’s Advisory Forum and a Technical Advisory
Group for advice and support.
• We added...
...4 questions on individual’s subjective assessment of their personal
• We publish…
…10 domains with 3 to 5 headline measures each, mixture of both
objective and subjective measures.
UK’s 4 Subjective Well-being Questions
1. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
2. Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life
are worthwhile? (Eudemonic)
3. Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday? (Experience or affect -
4. Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday? (Experience or affect
All answered using a 0 to 10 scale where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is
How did we choose the measures?
What to use/who can help?
• Existing research
• Questions used in national/ international surveys
• Advice from academic community
• Technical Advisory Group
How many questions?
• Balance cost versus usable information
• Cost of collection
• Respondent burden
• New or existing
• Impact on other questions (order)
OECD guidance versus UK practice
The following question asks how satisfied you feel, on a scale from 0 to 10. Zero
means you feel “not at all satisfied” and 10 means you feel “completely
Overall, how satisfied are you with life as a whole these days? [0-10] –
The following question asks how worthwhile you feel the things you do in your
life are, on a scale from 0 to 10. Zero means you feel the things you do in your
life are “not at all worthwhile”, and 10 means “completely worthwhile”.
Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are
worthwhile? [0-10] – eudaimonic.
The following questions ask about how you felt yesterday on a scale from 0 to
10. Zero means you did not experience the feeling “at all” yesterday while 10
means you experienced the feeling “all of the time” yesterday. I will now read out
a list of ways you might have felt yesterday.
How about happy? [0-10] – affect, positive
How about worried? [0-10] – affect, negative
How about depressed? [0-10] – affect, negative
Ensured infrastructure in place
• set up a National Statistician’s Advisory Forum, of
interested parties across business, academia and beyond
to help shape overall thinking and direction;
• established a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of
academic specialists to help with measurement issues.
For implementation, set up:
• cross-Government senior analysts group (Social Impacts
• cross-Government senior policy makers group (cross-
Whitehall steering group).
Engaged with key influencers
• Worked hard with media to convey well-being more
than happiness, e.g. media briefings accompanying
outputs to reiterate broader message
• Identified early media supporters to host events at
the national debate
• Invited external parties, e.g. members of the NS
Advisory Forum to endorse our message via blogs
and act as spokespersons to the press on our behalf
• Engaged with All Party Parliamentary Group on Well-being
Economics to help establish cross party
support – avoid topic being ‘politicised’.
What do we know so far?
• Focus has shifted from deciding whether to keep
these questions to knowing how best to use them
• Testing programme is a work in progress, but findings
• Mode of interview matters
• Asking the questions in different ways matters- but
which way is best?
• Day of the week matters
• There are fluctuations over the year, but is this in
response to events or seasonal or both?
• A closer look is needed at panel effects
What is important to Subjective Well-being?
Latest findings from regression analysis of subjective well-being
• Self-reported health, employment status and relationship
status most important aspects of subjective well-being.
• Higher earnings don’t necessarily lead to higher feelings of
happiness but do increase people’s life satisfaction.
• People in higher occupations or higher qualifications more
anxious than lower occupations or qualifications.
• Choice important – people working in a job that they are
content with have higher life satisfaction than those wanting
an additional or different job.
• ONS PWB statistics
recently gained National
Statistics status in
The benefits of National
Statistics status include:
•NS kitemark – independence,
Designation can mean that the
• meet identified user needs;
• are well explained and readily
• are produced according to
sound methods; and
• are managed impartially and
objectively in the public
• It is important these new measures are
not just published but become part of
public debate and are used to improve the
development, implementation and
evaluation of policies
• In July 2011 the Treasury and Dept for
Work & Pensions updated the Green Book
to include an approach that uses subjective
well-being measurement, to improve social
• Social cost-benefit analysis seeks to
express the full social costs and full social
benefits of policies in monetary terms.
• Such estimates can inform options,
analysis and business cases.
• Dept of Health’s alcohol strategy - considered national well-being.
• Civil Service People survey - insights into staff well-being help steer HR
• Dept of Work & Pensions assessing impact on the well-being of the very-long-
• UK about to launch ‘What Works Centre for Well-being’ partnership
between ESRC and UK Government departments
• UK Housing developer, Berkeley Homes is building “sustainable places”
as opposed to housing estates
• British Red Cross using ONS 4 personal well-being questions to help
evaluate impact of services for refugees
• Not just about personal well-being
• Need objective and subjective measures
• Subjective measures of:
Health (satisfaction with health)
Personal Finance (finding it difficult to get by
Crime (safe walking alone after dark)
• Need both measures to provide best
evidence for making decisions
• Encourage use of well-being data in policy.
• Review and refine domains and measures of well-being, including
assessment of change
• Further research drivers of well-being.
• Review framework for presenting well-being data to cover
sustainability, equity and sub-national information.
• Further development of the SWB questions and other indicators (eg
human, social & natural capitals, non-market production, etc).
• Continued input on International developments (UN, OECD, EU).
• The programme will continue to consult widely.
• Long-term development project – still learning...
• NOT a ‘happiness index’
• Consider importance of distributions not just averages
• Not a single measure – need both objective and
• Supplements – not supplants GDP
• Use for better targeting of scarce resources
• ‘Use it or lose it’.
See more: www.ons.gov.uk/well-being
Measuring National Well-being
To be continued......