Money isn’t everything.
At least not according to a new report released Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences.
The report,“Subjective Well-Being: Measuring Subjective Well-Being in a Policy-Relevant Framework,” suggests the U.S. isn’t ready to track national mood in a way that economic statistics such as Gross Domestic Product and the poverty rate do.
“The unemployment rate is used,for instance,as a gross indicator of how the country is doing economically,” Norman Bradburn said. “This concept is how people are doing with their quality of life.”
Bradburn,a part of the study’s team and a senior fellow at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center,said mood could potentially be tracked in the same way economic indicators such as the Gross Domestic Product and the poverty rate are but that any kind of indicator won’t happen any time soon.
“We don’t know enough,conceptually,about what makes people say they’re happy and what changes that,” Bradburn said. “We just don’t understand all that in a way that would make sense to go into it.”
Spurred by the mood tracking done in the U.K. in recent years,the NAS commissioned the study to see if subjective well-being could be tracked on a national level.
A picture of the country’s mood can be painted by asking questions relating to how happy people are with their lives,called evaluative well-being,and asking how people feel at the current moment,in the last hour,day or week,called hedonic well-being.
The study focused mostly on hedonic well-being,Bradburn said.
In 2009,France announced it would include happiness and well-being in its economic measurement as an additional way to measure social progress.
The United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics has included questions regarding well-being on national surveys as well.
Report editor and panel chair Arthur A. Stone said that,although the U.K. has a survey that asks certain questions,if the U.S. were to do something similar it would have to ask the right questions of the right people.
“We need to be sure we ask the right content of questions and the right number of questions,” Stone said.
He said the panel did not give examples of specific questions to ask,but that more questions regarding generally negative experiences (stress or anger,for example) should be asked than questions regarding generally “positive experiences” (such as joy).
The report discusses measuring evaluative well-being by asking questions such as,”Overall,how satisfied are you with your life these days?”
This question is asked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development of residents of some European countries and answered on a zero-to-10 scale.
To make the research reliable,questions would have to stay the same every year,Stone said.
“Folks like the same questions year to year,” he said. “We want to make sure the best job is done that could be.”
How the potential survey would be worded and distributed is up to policymakers,Stone said.
“The reason for that is that the policymakers need to decide how to use this information,” he said. “For example,if you wanted to understand how people caring for the elderly would be impacted,you might have a particular design in mind and these questions could help in that goal.”
Measuring well-being isn’t anything new; the OECD,headquartered in France,releases annual “Country Snapshots” discussing the well-being of each of its 34 members,which include the U.S.,the United Kingdom and France.
The Legatum Prosperity Index,produced by the Legatum Institute since 2008,ranks 142 countries based on indicators including wealth,economic growth and quality of life. The United States ranks 11th in the new survey. Norway has topped the overall index since 2009.
Stone said the Legatum index was not reviewed when his team created the subjective well-being report.
“It is a composite index that is not entirely subjective wellbeing — it includes all sorts of other factors,which are undoubtedly related to wellbeing,but perhaps not to subjective wellbeing,” Stone said.
Reach Sean Bradley at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.