A UK Perspective of Measuring
Subjective Well-being
Glenn Everett
Director of the Measuring National Well-being Programme
11 March 2014
www.ons.gov.uk/well-being
Background
• Traditional measures of progress such as GDP are
increasingly considered an incomplete picture of the state of
the nation.
• 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 in November 2010.
• Stiglitz et al “the time is ripe for our measurement system to
shift emphasis from measuring economic production to
measuring people’s well-being”.
Domains of National Well-being
Individual Well-Being
People’s own Assessment of their
own well-being (SWB)
Education and skills
Health
Equality/Fairness
Personal Finance
Where we live
Our relationships
What we do
Factors directly affecting individual wellbeing
Natural Environment
Governance
The Economy
More contextual domains
Sustainability Issues over time
UK’s Approach to Measuring National
Well-being
• Using many existing sources (around 21) to populate the
Domains.
• Added 4 questions on subjective well-being to household
surveys.
• Findings analysed alongside other information to help
understand impact on well-being.
ONS’ Four Subjective Well-being
Questions
1. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
(Evaluative)
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 - positive)
4. Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
(Experience or affect - negative)
All answered using a 0 to 10 scale where 0 is ‘not at all’
and 10 is ‘completely’
Overall change between 2011/12 &
2012/13
Overall change between 2011/12 &
2012/13
Overall change between 2011/12 &
2012/13
Overall change between 2011/12 & 2012/13
Differences by age
• 45 to 54 rate life
satisfaction,
worthwhile and
happiness levels
lowest on average...
• ...and 65 to 79 age
group highest.
• One reason for
lower average for 80
& over could be
loneliness.
Ethnicity
United Kingdom
White
Gypsy, Traveller or Irish Traveller1
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
Indian
Pakistani
Bangladeshi
Chinese
Any other Asian background
Life
satisfaction
7.5
..
7.0
7.5
7.3
7.2
7.4
7.4
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British 2
Arab
Other ethnic group
6.9
7.1
7.2
• Average life Ratings
Happy
Anxious
satisfaction
highest
Worthwhile
yesterday yesterday
7.7
7.3White3.0and
amongst
..
..
..
Indian
people...
7.5
7.0
3.4
7.7
7.5
7.5
7.4
7.6
7.4
7.2
7.3
7.4
7.3
3.3
3.2
3.1
3.0
3.3
7.5
7.1
7.4
7.1
6.7
7.1
3.1
3.3
3.4
• ...but lowest for
Black ethnic group.
1 Sample sizes too small for reliable estimates.
2 Differences in the terminology and data collection of the country specific Scotland question makes
these categories difficult to compare. The 'African' categories in the Scottish question is presented in a
separate section to the 'Caribbean' or 'Black' category, however, under the harmonised output these two
categories are combined as part of 'Black/African/Caribbean/Black British'. The African categories used
What is important to Subjective Well-being?
Latest findings from regression analysis of subjective well-being
found:
• 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.
Policy Appraisal
• It is important new measures are used to
improve the development, implementation
and evaluation of policies
• In July 2011 the Treasury updated the
guidance on cost-benefit analysis to include an
approach that uses subjective well-being
measurement.
• 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.
How is well-being data used?
• Dept of Health’s alcohol strategy against a consideration of national
well-being.
• Civil Service People survey - insights into staff well-being help steer
HR policies.
• Dept of Work & Pensions is assessing impact on the well-being of the
very-long-term unemployed.
• Cabinet Office is evaluating the impact of National Citizen Service on
the well-being of participants.
• Berkeley Homes is using well-being as part of their evaluation of
planning proposals.
Strengths/Limitations
• Long-term development project – still learning – experimental
outputs.
• Consider importance of distributions not just averages –
miserable minority.
• Not a single measure – need both objective and subjective
data.
• Supplements – not supplants to GDP and other indicators.
• Use for better targeting of scarce resources.
• Complex – no composite indicator
• Cost of surveys.
More information: www.ons.gov.uk/well-being.
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Glenn Everett, Director of the Measuring National Well