A. Core measures

The core measures are intended to be used by data producers as the common reference point for the measurement of subjective well-being. Although limited to a few questions, the core measures provide the foundation for comparisons of the level and distribution of life evaluations and affect between countries, over time and between population groups.

Data producers are encouraged to use the core measures in their entirety. The whole module should take less than 2 minutes to complete in most instances. It includes a basic measure of overall life evaluation and three short affect questions. A single experimental eudaimonic measure is also included.

There are two elements to the core measures module. The first is a primary measure of life evaluation. This represents the absolute minimum required to measure subjective well-being, and it is recommended that all national statistical agencies include this measure in one of their annual household surveys.

The second element consists of a short series of affect questions and an experimental eudaimonic question. The inclusion of these measures complements the primary evaluative measure both because they capture different aspects of subjective well-being (with a different set of drivers) and because the difference in the nature of the measures means that they are affected in different ways by cultural and other sources of measurement error. While it is highly desirable that these questions are collected along with the primary measure as part of the core, these questions should be considered a lower priority than the primary measure. In particular, the inclusion of the eudaimonic measure in the core should be considered experimental.

There are essentially two candidate questions for the primary measure. These are the Self-Anchoring Striving Scale (the Cantril Ladder) and a version of the commonly-used question on satisfaction with life. Both have been widely used and have an extensive literature attesting to their validity and reliability. Both questions focus on the evaluative aspect of subjective well-being and have been used in large-scale surveys across many different nations and cultures. The choice between the two measures comes down to a balancing of the strengths and weaknesses of each measure.

The Cantril Ladder is designed to be “self-anchoring”, and is therefore thought to be less vulnerable to interpersonal differences in how people use the measurement scale. In addition, the anchoring element of the scale is explicitly framed relative to the respondent’s aspirations. This has led some authors to suggest that it may be more rather than less vulnerable to issues of cross-country comparability (Bj0rnskov, 2010). Also, the Cantril Ladder tends to produce a marginally wider distribution of responses than does satisfaction with life. However, the Cantril Ladder is a relatively lengthy question, requiring some explanation of the “ladder” concept involved.

By way of contrast, the satisfaction with life question is simple and relatively intuitive. Compared to the Cantril Ladder, the satisfaction with life question has been the subject of much more analysis, reflecting its inclusion not just in the World Values Survey, but also in crucial panel datasets such as the German Socio-Economic Panel and the British Household Panel Survey.

The Cantril Ladder and the satisfaction with life question are relatively similar in terms of their technical suitability for use as an over-arching measure, particularly if both use the same 11-point (0 to 10) scale.13 Given this situation, the primary measure included in the core module is a variant of the satisfaction with life question using a 0-to-10 scale. The decisive factor in favour of this choice is the relative simplicity of the question, which will make it easier to incorporate in large-scale household surveys where respondent burden is a significant issue.

Several affect questions are included in the core module. This is because affect is inherently multi-dimensional and no single question can capture overall affect. The various dimensions of affect can be classified in two ways. One of these relates to positive versus negative emotions, while the other relates to level of “arousal”. This gives four affect quadrants and is known as the Circumplex model (Larson and Fredrickson, 1999).14 Figure 3.3 illustrates the Circumplex model. The quadrants are: positive low arousal (e.g. contentment); positive high arousal (e.g. joy); negative low arousal (e.g. sadness); and negative high arousal (e.g. anger, stress). A good measure of affect might attempt to cover all four quadrants.

Figure 3.3. The circumplex model of affect

Source: Derived from Russell (1980).

Unlike overall life satisfaction, there is not an obvious choice of a simple affect measure that is suitable for inclusion in general household surveys. Most affect scales have been developed in the context either of the measurement of mental health or of more general psychological research. In the former case, many of the existing scales focus excessively on negative affect, while in the latter the scales may be too long for practical use in a household survey. One model for collecting affect measures in a household survey is provided by the Gallup World Poll, which contains a range of questions on affect covering enjoyment, worry, anger, stress and depression, as well as some physical indicators such as smiling or experiencing pain. These questions now have a significant history of use and analysis behind them (Kahneman and Deaton, 2010). A very similar set of questions (on positive affect only) was proposed by Davern, Cummins and Stokes (2007).

The affect questions contained in the proposed prototype module are based on those in the Gallup World Poll and proposed by Davern, but reduced to a list of two questions covering both the negative quadrants of the Circumplex model of affect and a single positive affect question. Only a single positive question is used because the different aspects of positive affect are, in practice, relatively closely correlated. The moods proposed for measurement are happy, worried and depressed. In each case, a 0-to-10 frequency scale is used for responses (ranging from “not at all”, to “all of the time”, similar to the scale anchors used in the European Social Survey).

The eudaimonic question is based on a question trialled by the ONS: “to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?” There is good evidence from the ONS data that this question captures information not covered by life evaluation and affect measures (NEF, 2012). In addition, a similar question was included in the American Time Use Survey well-being module (Krueger and Mueller, 2012). The question proposed here is similar to that used by the ONS. However, because there is as yet no over-arching theory linking individual questions such as the one proposed to “eudaimonia” as a broad concept, the question should be regarded as experimental.

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