Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being: Evidence from the USA

Department of Economics, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.
Science (Impact Factor: 33.61). 12/2009; 327(5965):576-9. DOI: 10.1126/science.1180606
Source: PubMed


A huge research literature, across the behavioral and social sciences, uses information on individuals’ subjective well-being.
These are responses to questions—asked by survey interviewers or medical personnel—such as, “How happy do you feel on a scale
from 1 to 4?” Yet there is little scientific evidence that such data are meaningful. This study examines a 2005–2008 Behavioral
Risk Factor Surveillance System random sample of 1.3 million U.S. citizens. Life satisfaction in each U.S. state is measured.
Across America, people’s answers trace out the same pattern of quality of life as previously estimated, from solely nonsubjective
data, in one branch of economics (so-called “compensating differentials” neoclassical theory, originally from Adam Smith).
There is a state-by-state match (r = 0.6, P < 0.001) between subjective and objective well-being. This result has some potential to help to unify disciplines.

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    • "There are also a number of studies on geographical variations in life satisfaction at the regional level. For example, Oswald and Wu (2010) have examined regional differences in life satisfaction across U.S. states and reported that states like Louisiana and Washington D.C. have high levels of life satisfaction yet California and West Virginia have low levels of life satisfaction. Berry and Okulicz-Kozaryn (2011) find a gradient of happiness in the United States, where the average self-reported happiness is the highest in small-town/rural periphery and the lowest in large cities. "
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    ABSTRACT: Recently increased attention has been paid to the subjectively experienced wellbeing in geographical research. Studies have revealed that there are significant spatial variations in people’s life satisfaction between places and regions. Studies have been conducted investigating inter-national, inter-regional and inter-city differences in life satisfaction. However, only a limited number of studies have examined the intra-urban variation in life satisfaction. This study aims to fill in this gap by examining the spatial patterns of life satisfaction in a city. The data is derived from a household survey conducted in from 2012 to 2013 in Beijing, China. Several multivariate models are developed to examine the significance of spatial factors in explaining life satisfaction. It is found that inter-district differences account for around 10% of the variations in life satisfaction and there is a significant difference in life satisfaction between urban and suburban residents in Beijing. Findings of this research have important implications for making policies to improve subjective well-being through urban design and community planning.
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    • "Subjective well-being (SWB) research is a non-trivial task that touches on many areas of social and health sciences. Its interest has grown almost exponentially: over the last 20 years, the number of publications on well-being has increased approximately 16-fold (Diener, 2009), and articles on SWB have recently been published in journals such as Science (Oswald & Wu, 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: Subjective well-being is a research arena that has grown almost exponentially: over the last 20 years, the number of publications on subjective well-being has increased approximately 16-fold (Diener, 2009). The cognitive aspect of subjective well-being or life satisfaction is referred to a conscious cognitive judgment of life (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin 1985), in which person’s quality of life is globally assessed (Shin & Johnson, 1978). The Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS, Diener et al., 1985) is the most widely used instrument for its measurement. A reliable, valid and invariant measurement is critical for meaningful comparisons. The aim of this study is to examine the configural, metric and scalar invariance across age in the Portuguese version of the SWLS with a sample of 5630 Angolans. A standard measurement invariance procedure has been applied both across gender and age. Results shown that scalar invariance of the SWLS held across gender and age. This strong invariance allowed for meaningful latent mean comparisons. There were latent mean differences due to gender and age, but while gender differences were modest, the age differences were larger. Results are discussed in their relation with existing literature.
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    • "Second, the graphs in Figure 3 are comparable in shape notwithstanding their diverging trends in the period between 2000 and the mid-2000s. This pattern, I argue, is consistent with the view that subjective and objective evaluations are just alternative measurements of the same phenomenon (Kahneman, Wakker, and Sarin 1997; Diener and Seligman 2004; Oswald and Wu 2010). I further argue that the similarity in shape is a type of evidence on the reliability (Larsen and Fredrickson 1999; Kahneman and Krueger 2006; Krueger and Schkade 2008) and validity (Costa and McCrae 1988; Ekman, Davidson, and Friesen 1990; Pavot et al. 1991; Sandvik, Diener, and Seidlitz 1993) of the subjective measure of economic ill-being. "
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    ABSTRACT: The mismatch between a country’s macroeconomic performance and the people’s economic well-being represents the overall economic ill-being in a society. This mismatch is measurable using objective indicators such as the inflation rate and the joblessness rate as well as subjective indicators such as personal evaluations on the inflation and joblessness rates. That is, the inflation rate shows the affordability of goods and services; and the subjective evaluation indicates whether people see the goods and services as affordable or not. In addition, the joblessness rate indicates the portion of the labor force that does not enjoy gainful employment; and the subjective evaluation indicates whether people see themselves as jobless or not. The results for the Philippines show a high-level of overall economic ill-being especially in the decade covering 2005 to 2014. This finding unveils a different scene from what the mainstream discourses are portraying as the current state of the Philippine society.
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