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OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-Being - Key Findings


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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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OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-Being - Key Findings

  1. 1. OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being
  2. 2. • The 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 wellbeing • The Guidelines cover: – Concept and validity – Methodological issues – Best practice in measuring subjective well-being – The output and analysis of subjective well-being measures – Prototype question modules on subjective well-being What are these Guidelines?
  3. 3. What is subjective well-being? “Good mental states, including all of the various evaluations, positive and negative, that people make of their lives, and the affective reactions of people to their experiences.”
  4. 4. Why have these guidelines been produced? • It is increasingly recognised that it is important to go beyond monetary measures, such as GDP, in measuring the progress of societies • Ultimately, it is well-being that is the focus of policy • People’s subjective perceptions, evaluations, and experiences are a crucial component of overall well- being
  5. 5. Why have these guidelines been produced? • The Sen/Stiglitz/Fitoussi commission identified subjective well-being as a key element of quality of life for national statistical offices to report on: Recommendation 1: Measures of subjective well-being provide key information about people’s quality of life. Statistical offices should incorporate questions to capture people’s life evaluations, hedonic experiences and priorities in their own surveys Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Stiglitz, Sen, Fitoussi et al (2009) • For official measures of subjective well-being to be useful it is essential they are collected in a consistent manner – To facilitate comparisons – To provide a common baseline for developing better questions
  6. 6. • The Guidelines are intended as a resource for data producers, not as a prescriptive standard – A core question module is identified to provide the basis for a common international set of reference questions – Additional question modules on life evaluation, affect, eudaimonia, domain evaluations, and experienced well-being are intended as a resource for data producers in developing their own questionnaires that best meet their needs How are the guidelines intended to be used?
  7. 7. Conclusions and recommendations • There is a large body of evidence on the validity and reliability of measures of subjective well-being – Although subject to some important methodological limitations, there is no case for considering measures of subjective well-being “beyond the scope” of official statistics – Official measures of subjective well-being should be collected – possibly as experimental data series • Measures of subjective well-being are subject to a number of methodological challenges, but: – Consistency in measurement can address many of these – National statistical agencies are in a unique position to improve the evidence base on many of the outstanding issues by collecting high-quality data • The Guidelines provide advice on best practice including: – Target population – Frequency and duration of enumeration – Sample size and survey mode – Choice and placement of questions
  8. 8. What is next? • The Guidelines are do not provide the “final word” on measuring subjective well-being • The evidence base on measures of subjective well-being can be expected to improve dramatically over the next few years – particularly as better quality data becomes available through national statistical offices collecting the measures outlined in the Guidelines • The OECD is planning to review progress on the measurement of subjective well-being over the next few years with a view to deciding: – Whether the Guidelines need revising – Whether it is possible and desirable to move towards a greater degree of international standardisation • During 2013 and 2014 the OECD will be actively supporting the uptake of the Guidelines with workshops held in Europe, America, and the Asia- Pacific regions