The guidelines

Scope and objectives

The aim of the project is to prepare a set of guidelines addressed to national statistical offices on the collection and use of measures of subjective well-being. This includes first and foremost measures of how people experience and evaluate life as a whole. Over-arching measures of this sort have been the main focus for academic analysis of subjective well-being and are therefore the best understood measures of subjective wellbeing, including because they reflect people’s experiences and evaluations of all the different aspects of life, and therefore bring the most additional information to existing outcome measures such as income, health, education and time use. Despite this, the guidelines do also attempt to provide advice on people’s evaluations of particular domains of life, such as satisfaction with their financial status or satisfaction with their health status as well as “eudaimonic”4 aspects of subjective well-being. These measures are both of high interest for policy purposes and also methodologically similar to the more general questions on overall subjective well-being.

The guidelines do not attempt to address subjective measures of objective concepts. Measures of this sort, such as self-rated health or perceived air quality, are outside the scope of this project. While the measurement technique for questions of this sort is subjective, the subject matter is not, and such questions pose different methodological issues in measurement.

This report will outline both why measures of subjective well-being are relevant for monitoring the well-being of people and for policy design and evaluation and why national statistical agencies have a critical role in enhancing the usefulness of existing measures. The report will identify the best approaches for measuring in a reliable and consistent way the various dimensions of subjective well-being and will provide guidance for reporting on such measures. The project also includes the development of prototype survey modules on subjective well-being that national and international agencies could take as a starting point when designing their national surveys and undertaking any further testing and development.

The production of a set of guidelines on measuring subjective well-being by the OECD is expected to contribute to greater consistency in measurement of subjective well-being in official statistics. In particular, these guidelines are intended to:

  • • Improve the quality of measures collected by national statistical offices by providing best practice in question wording and survey design.
  • • Improve the usefulness of data collected by setting out guidelines on the appropriate frequency, survey vehicles and co-variates when collecting subjective well-being data.
  • • Improve the international comparability of subjective well-being measures by establishing common concepts, classifications and methods that national statistical agencies could use.

These guidelines do not by any means represent the final word on the measurement of subjective well-being. Although some aspects of the measurement of subjective well-being - such as questions on overall satisfaction with life - are very well understood, other potentially important measures currently draw on much weaker evidence bases. It is to be expected that the evidence base on subjective well-being will develop rapidly over the next few years. In particular, to the degree that national statistical offices start regularly collecting and publishing data on subjective well-being, many methodological questions are likely to be resolved as better data becomes available, and an increasing body of knowledge will accumulate around the policy uses of subjective well-being data.

It is envisaged that these guidelines will be followed up by a review of progress on the measurement of subjective well-being over the next few years, with a view to deciding whether the guidelines need revising and whether it is possible and desirable to move towards a greater degree of international standardisation. The intent is that this review will build on information collected by national statistical agencies, and will consider the feasibility of eventual moves towards a more formal international standard for the measurement of subjective well-being.

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