Theory and Validity of Life Satisfaction Scales

Social Indicators Research, 2012

50 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2013

See all articles by Ed Diener

Ed Diener

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ronald F. Inglehart

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Institute for Social Research (ISR); National Research University Higher School of Economics (Moscow)

Louis Tay

Purdue University

Date Written: January 10, 2013

Abstract

National accounts of subjective well-being are being considered and adopted by nations. In order to be useful for policy deliberations, the measures of life satisfaction must be psychometrically sound. The reliability, validity, and sensitivity to change of life satisfaction measures are reviewed. The scales are stable under unchanging conditions, but are sensitive to changes in circumstances in people’s lives. Several types of data indicate that the scales validly reflect the quality of respondents’ lives: 1. Differences between nations in life satisfaction associated with differences in objective conditions, 2. Differences between groups who live in different circumstances, 3. Correlations with nonself-report measures of life satisfaction, 4. Genetic and physiological associations with life satisfaction, 5. Systematic patterns of change in the scales before, during, and after significant life events, and 6. Prediction by life satisfaction scores of future behaviors such as suicide.

The life satisfaction scales can be influenced by factors such as question order, current mood, and mode of presentation, but in most cases these can be controlled. Our model of life satisfaction judgments points to the importance of attention, values, standards, and top-down effects. Although the scales are useful in research on individual well-being, there are policy questions that need more analysis and research, such as which types of subjective well-being measures are most relevant to which types of policies, how standards influence scores, and how best to associate the scores with current policy deliberations.

Suggested Citation

Diener, Ed and Inglehart, Ronald F. and Tay, Louis, Theory and Validity of Life Satisfaction Scales (January 10, 2013). Social Indicators Research, 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2199211

Ed Diener (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( email )

601 E John St
Champaign, IL Champaign 61820
United States

Ronald F. Inglehart

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Institute for Social Research (ISR) ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248
United States

National Research University Higher School of Economics (Moscow)

Myasnitskaya street, 20
Moscow, Moscow 119017
Russia

Louis Tay

Purdue University

610 Purdue Mall
West Lafayette, IN 47906
United States

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