Response styles and international comparability


  • • Response styles present particular challenges for data interpretation when they vary systematically between countries or between population sub-groups within countries. This is relevant to all self-reported indicators, and there are not strong grounds for expecting subjective well-being measures to be uniquely affected.
  • • The best-known cure for response styles is currently prevention, through adopting sound survey design principles that minimise the risk that respondents will rely on characteristic response styles or heuristics to answer questions. This includes selecting questions that are easily translated and understood and minimally burdensome on memory, as well as structuring and introducing the survey in a way that promotes respondent motivation.

Priorities for future work

  • • Some of the factors influencing response biases and differences in scale use, such as respondent characteristics and the role of culture, cannot always be managed through good survey methodology alone. In particular, international and cultural differences in scale interpretation and use, which is linked to the broader conceptual translatability of subjective well-being content, may place limits on the comparability of data between countries.
  • • Systematic investigation of this issue presents a challenging research agenda. Until more is known about the international comparability of subjective well-being data, one option may be to focus reporting and analysis on changes in subjective well-being over time, including the use of panel data. This and other management strategies, including post hoc data adjustments, are discussed in Chapter 4.
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