Construct validity

Where convergent validity involves assessing the degree to which a measure correlates with other proxy measures of the same concept, construct validity focuses on whether the measure performs in the way that theory would predict. Construct validity concerns itself with whether the measure shows the expected relationship with the factors thought to determine the underlying concept being measured, and with outcomes thought to be influenced by the measure in question. There is an extensive literature relevant to the assessment of the construct validity of measures of subjective well-being. Economists in particular, driven in part by the desire to understand how well such measures perform as a potential measure of utility, have looked in depth at the economic and social drivers of subjective well-being. Meanwhile, psychologists have often explored individual, psychological and psycho-social determinants.

Measures of subjective well-being broadly show the expected relationship with other individual, social and economic determinants. Among individuals, higher incomes are associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and affect, and wealthier countries have higher average levels of both types of subjective well-being than poorer countries (Sacks, Stevenson and Wolfers, 2010). At the individual level, health status, social contact, education and being in a stable relationship with a partner are all associated with higher levels of life satisfaction (Dolan, Peasgood and White, 2008), while unemployment has a large negative impact on life satisfaction (Winkelmann and Winkelmann, 1998. Kahneman and Krueger (2006) report that intimate relations, socialising, relaxing, eating and praying are associated with high levels of net positive affect; conversely, commuting, working, childcare and housework are associated with low levels of net positive affect. Boarini et al. (2012) find that affect measures have the same broad sets of drivers as measures of life satisfaction, although the relative importance of some factors changes.

Further, it is clear that changes in subjective well-being - particularly life evaluations - that result from life events are neither trivial in magnitude, nor transient. Studies have shown that change in income, becoming unemployed, and becoming disabled have a long-lasting impact on life satisfaction (e.g. Lucas, 2007; Lucas, Clark, Georgellis and Diener, 2003; Diener, Lucas and Napa Scollon, 2006), although there can also be substantial individual differences in the extent to which people show resilience, or are able to adapt to, adversity over time. In the case of negative life experiences, Cummins et al. (2002) note that extreme adversity is expected to result in “homeostatic defeat” - thus, life experiences such as the chronic pain of arthritis or the stress of caring for a severely disabled family member at home can lead to stably low levels of subjective well-being. Similarly, Diener, Lucas and Napa Scollon (2006) describe evidence of partial recovery from the impacts of widowhood, divorce and unemployment in the five years following these events, but subjective well-being still fails to return to the levels observed in the five years prior to these events. Thus although there is evidence of partial adaptation to changes in life circumstances, adaptation is not complete, and the impact of these life events on life evaluations is long-lasting.

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