E. Domain evaluations

In addition to evaluating life as a whole, it is also possible to collect information evaluating specific life “domains” such as health or standard of living. Such information has a wide range of potential uses (Dolan and White, 2007; Ravallion, 2012) and may be better adapted to some policy and research questions than over-arching evaluations relating to life as a whole. A challenge to providing advice on measuring domain evaluations is the sheer range of possible life domains that could be measured. Some areas, such as job satisfaction, have substantial literatures in their own right, while others do not. The goal of the domain evaluation module is not to provide an exhaustive approach to measuring subjective evaluations of all policy-relevant life domains. Instead, the focus is on the more limited objective of detailing a limited set of domain evaluation measures that can be used in a general social survey focused on measuring well-being across multiple domains or as the basis for an analysis of the relationship between overall life satisfaction and domain evaluations (e.g. Van Praag, Frijters and Ferrer-i-Carbonell, 2003). Each individual question can, of course, be used in its own right in analysis and monitoring of the particular outcome that it reflects.

Ideally, the questions comprising the domain satisfaction block would meet two key criteria. First, they would be independently meaningful as measures of satisfaction with a particular aspect of life; and second they would collectively cover all significant life domains. A major practical challenge to this sort of approach, however, is that there is no generally agreed framework for identifying how to divide well-being as a whole into different life domains. Different authors have taken different approaches. For example, the Stiglitz/Sen/Fitoussi commission identified eight domains of quality of life alongside economic resources, while the ONS proposal for measuring national well-being identified a slightly different set of nine domains of well-being, including “individual well-being” as a distinct domain capturing overall life evaluations. The OECD’s Better Life Initiative uses eleven life domains, including a distinct domain on subjective well-being, while the New Zealand General Social Survey uses a slightly different set of ten domains. Another approach is that adopted for constructing the Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI; International Wellbeing Group, 2006). This consists of eight primary items that are meaningful on their own but which can also be used to calculate an overall index of subjective well-being. The domains that are included in the PWI have been subject to considerable testing and reflect the results of extensive factor analysis. Table 3.1 compares these different approaches.

Table 3.1. A comparison of life domains






Material conditions

Income and wealth

Personal finance

Economic standard of living

Standard of living

Economic insecurity

The economy

Future security


Jobs and earnings

What we do

Paid work

Personal activities

Work and life balance

Leisure and recreation


Health status

Health (physical and mental)


Personal health


Education and skills

Education and skills

Knowledge and skills

Social connections

Social connections

Our relationships

Social connectedness

Personal relationships

Community connectedness

Political voice and governance

Civic engagement and governance


Civil and political rights

Personal insecurity

Personal security

Where we live


Personal safety

Environmental conditions

Environmental quality

The environment

The environment

Cultural identity

Achieving in life

Subjective well-being

Individual well-being

Life satisfaction

Note: The SSF domains have been widely used by other agencies as the basis of their own analysis of well-being. The European Union Sponsorship Group on Measuring Progress, Well-being and Sustainable Development, the UNECD Sustainable Development Task Force, and the ISTAT, for example, have all adopted variants of the SSF approach for various purposes.

Source: The acronyms used in Table 3.1 are: Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress -Sen, Stiglitz, Fitoussi (SSF); Your Better Life Index - OECD (BLI); Office for National Statistics (ONS); New Zealand General Social Survey (NZGSS); and Personal WeWbeing Index (PWI).

There is a high degree of overlap in the different approaches outlined in Table 3.1. The proposed domain evaluations module draws on these to identify ten questions pertaining to ten specific life domains. These domains include the constituent elements of the PWI as a subset, but also three additional domains (time to do what you like doing, the quality of the environment, and your job) that are of potential policy relevance in and of themselves. The nine domains are:

• Standard of living.

  • • Health status.
  • • Achievement in life.
  • • Personal relationships.
  • • Personal safety.
  • • Feeling part of a community.
  • • Future security.
  • • Time to do what you like doing.
  • • Quality of the environment.
  • • Your job (for the employed).

The ten proposed questions cover all of the main domains of well-being identified in Table 3.1 except one: governance. The range of concepts covered by political voice, governance and civil and political rights is very broad, and there is no model question or set of questions that could be used as the basis for inclusion in these guidelines. Similarly, there would be little value in developing a question from scratch without testing to see how the question performs. However, governance is undeniably an important dimension of well-being. The issue of how best to collect information on satisfaction with governance, political voice and civil and political rights therefore remains a key area for future research.

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