The case for national statistical agencies producing measures of subjective well-being depends on the relevancy and accuracy of such measures. If it is possible to produce measures of subjective well-being that are of sufficient quality to be fit for purpose, and which are of use either in formulating policy or in informing the broader public in useful ways, then there is a strong argument in favour of collecting and publishing such measures. Over the last ten years, measures of subjective well-being have moved increasingly from the realm of academic discourse into the realm of informing policymaking and public debate. There is now a sufficient body of knowledge on how measures of subjective well-being will be used to make a strong prima facie case for their relevance. While ultimately the proof of relevance will depend on up-take and use, this cannot occur until measures are produced, at least on an experimental basis. For this reason it is important that at least some official statistical agencies start producing regular series of subjective well-being data to support policy-makers and allow more informed decisions about the ultimate usefulness of such data. Only when such data is available for some time can more definite judgements be reached on relevance.
There is a large body of evidence on the reliability and validity of measures of subjective well-being and the methodological challenges involved in collecting and analysing such data. Indeed, given the academic interest in the topic and the challenging nature of the subject, the body of evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of measures of subjective well-being exceeds that for many measures regularly collected as part of official statistics (Smith, 2013). While measures of subjective well-being have some important limitations, there is no case for simply considering subjective measures of well-being “beyond the scope” of official statistics. Although subject to some methodological limitations, it is clear that for many of the purposes for which they are desired, measures of subjective well-being are able to meet the basic standard of “fit for purpose”.
However, there are also a number of areas where measures of subjective well-being are more strongly affected by issues to do with how the measure is collected and with potentially irrelevant characteristics of the respondent than is the case for many other official statistics. This does not suggest that measures of subjective well-being should be rejected outright, but points to two important steps. First, there is a need for official measures of subjective well-being to be collected - possibly as experimental data series - in order to provide the basis to resolve some of the outstanding methodological issues. Second, it is important that information on the nature of the most significant methodological issues associated with collecting measures of subjective well-being is available to potential producers of subjective well-being data, and that a common approach to dealing with these issues is developed. This is the focus of the second chapter.