The structure of the guidelines

The guidelines are organised in four chapters. Chapter 1 focuses on the issues of concept and validity. This chapter addresses the issue of what subjective well-being “is” and describes a conceptual framework for subjective well-being, including a clear over-arching definition of the scope of subjective well-being and how this relates to broader notions of quality of life. The issue of the reliability and validity of measures of subjective well-being is also addressed, with a review of the evidence on validity. Finally, the chapter provides an overview of some of the limitations of subjective well-being measures, setting out some of the known problems and shortcomings.

The second chapter focuses on the methodological issues that should inform the selection of measures of subjective well-being through surveys. This chapter is framed around issues of survey mode, survey flow and question design. In particular, the chapter covers the impact of issues related to question order, question placement within the survey, question wording, scale formats and labelling, day and time effects and biases due to social desirability. In addition to identifying the key methodological issues raised, Chapter 2 makes recommendations on the best approach to mitigate the effect of various sources of bias.

Chapter 3 sets out an over-arching strategy for the measurement of subjective well-being. This covers both the range of concepts that should be measured and the choice of survey vehicles for measuring them. Issues of sample design and the statistical units to be measured are discussed, as well as the most appropriate range of co-variates to collect along with the subjective measures of well-being. The specific suite of measures proposed will also be outlined.

The final chapter sets out guidelines for the output and analysis of subjective well-being data. The first section of the chapter coves the issues associated with basic reporting of subjective well-being data, including what constitutes meaningful change and issues such as whether to report average scores or the proportion of the population relative to a threshold of some sort. The second part of the chapter gives a more detailed treatment of the use of subjective well-being data.

Annex A of the guidelines provides illustrative examples of different types of subjective well-being questions that have been used previously throughout the world. It is intended primarily to help users of the guidelines understand the methodological references to specific question types made in Chapter 2. Annex B contains six prototype question modules for national statistical agencies and other producers of subjective well-being data to use as models for their own questions. Module A (core measures) contains a primary measure of subjective well-being that all data producers are strongly encouraged to include as a baseline measure, along with four additional questions that should also be regarded as highly desirable to collect wherever space permits. The remaining five modules provide more detailed information that may be used by data producers where more detailed information on one of the dimensions of subjective well-being is considered a priority.

 
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