Overall conclusions and priorities for future work
This chapter has identified a wide range of methodological issues which have to be considered, and in some cases traded off, when attempting to measure subjective well-being through surveys in a way that produces high-quality and comparable data. Given the degree of sensitivity that subjective well-being measures show to varying survey conditions and to how questions are framed, guidelines for measurement perhaps need to be more precisely specified than is the case for some more “objective” indicators, such as oil production or life expectancy. Arguably, however, this sensitivity exists in many other self-reported measures, and thus guidelines should not need to be more rigorous than would be the case for several other social survey indicators - and particularly those requiring subjective judgments.
In terms of good practice for measuring subjective well-being, there are currently some known knowns, and these are summarised in the recommendations that follow. Several known unknowns remain, and these are the basis for the research priorities listed below. National statistical agencies are particularly well-placed to advance this research agenda, as they are in a unique position to undertake systematic methodological work with large and representative samples. Until more of this type of data has been collected, however, the best method for maximising data comparability, both within and between countries, will be to adopt a consistent approach across surveys. Recommendations on what this consistent approach should look like are captured in the draft survey modules provided in Chapter 3. Given the known sources of error in subjective well-being measures, further discussion of how to report, analyse and interpret this data is included in Chapter 4.