Measuring and Understanding Subjective Well-Being

30 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2010 Last revised: 30 May 2022

See all articles by John F. Helliwell

John F. Helliwell

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Christopher Barrington-Leigh

McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy

Date Written: April 2010

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Helliwell, John F. and Barrington-Leigh, Christopher, Measuring and Understanding Subjective Well-Being (April 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w15887, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1586694

John F. Helliwell (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Christopher Barrington-Leigh

McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy

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HOME PAGE: http://barrington-leigh.net/address

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