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The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive and Measurement

ISBN: 978-1-118-48957-4
288 pages
October 2014
The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive and Measurement (1118489578) cover image


What is national wellbeing and what is progress? Why measure these definitions? Why are measures beyond economic performance needed and how will they be used? How do we measure national wellbeing & turn the definitions into observable quantities? Where are we now and where to next?

These questions are asked and answered in this much needed, timely book.

The Wellbeing of Nations provides an accessible and comprehensive overview of the measurement of national well-being, examining whether national wellbeing is more than the sum of the wellbeing of everyone in the country, and identifying and reviewing requirements for new measures. It begins with definitions, describes how to operationalize those definitions, and takes a critical look at the uses to which such measures are to be put. The authors examine initiatives from around the world, using the UK ‘measuring national wellbeing programme’ as a case study throughout the book, along with case studies drawn from other countries, as well as discussion of the position in some countries not yet drawn into the national wellbeing scene.
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Table of Contents

List of tables and figures viii

Preface ix

1 What is national wellbeing and why measure it? 1

1.1 Motivation: Why measure wellbeing? 3

1.2 What is individual wellbeing? 8

1.3 Aspects of individual wellbeing 11

1.4 How to measure individual wellbeing? 16

1.4.1 Basics of measurement 16

1.4.2 What is measured matters 18

1.5 Properties of measurements 21

1.5.1 Validity 21

1.5.2 Reliability 22

1.6 Objective or subjective? 22

1.7 Combining multiple aspects 23

1.8 What is national wellbeing? 26

1.9 And how to measure national wellbeing? 27

1.10 Structure of the book 30

References 31

2 A short history of national wellbeing and its measurement 35

2.1 The good society and philosophies of the role of government, from ancient times 36

2.2 Utilitarianism 39

2.3 The American constitution 41

2.4 Official statistics – statistics about the state and about the state of society 42

2.5 National accounts and GDP 44

2.6 More to life than GDP 51

2.7 Social indicator movement and measuring quality of life 53

2.8 Health and wellbeing 56

2.9 Rise of measurement of psychological wellbeing (life satisfaction, happiness, worthwhile lives) 58

2.10 The Easterlin paradox 61

2.11 Taking note of the change in the quality of the goods and services we use 62

2.12 Capability approach to quality of life (Sen) and the human development index 63

2.13 Social capital and public value 65

2.14 Limits to growth and sustainable development indicators 67

2.14.1 Sustainable development indicators 69

2.14.2 Green growth indicators 72

2.14.3 Natural resource accounting 73

2.15 Commentary 75

References 77

3 Recent developments: Towards economic, social and environmental accounts 83

3.1 Mismeasuring our lives: The report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress 85

3.2 Replacing the Millennium Development Goals 90

3.3 A new global movement? 93

3.4 Commentary 104

References 110

4 Measuring individual wellbeing 115

4.1 On quantification 119

4.2 Single measures of wellbeing 123

4.3 Combining aspects of wellbeing 125

4.3.1 Causes, effects, and correlates 126

4.3.2 Subjective components of wellbeing 127

4.3.3 Weighted sums 129

4.4 Components of individual wellbeing 132

4.5 The frailty of memory 137

4.6 The devil’s in the details 138

4.7 Conclusion 142

References 143

5 Preparing to measure national wellbeing 146

5.1 Towards a user requirement for measures of national wellbeing and progress 147

5.2 Towards a framework to measure the progress of societies 152

5.3 Constructing measures of progress and national wellbeing: Identifying and meeting user requirements 160

5.4 Commentary 166

References 168

6 How to measure national wellbeing? 171

6.1 Drawing on the national economic accounts 172

6.2 Extending the national accounts 181

6.2.1 Consider income and consumption jointly with wealth 183

6.2.2 Give more prominence to the distribution of income, consumption and wealth 185

6.2.3 Broaden income measures to nonmarket activities 187

6.3 Indicator sets describing social and environmental conditions relating to wellbeing 190

6.3.1 Improve measures of people’s health, education, personal activities and environmental conditions 191

6.3.2 Quality-of-life indicators in all the dimensions covered should assess inequalities in a comprehensive way 193

6.3.3 Surveys should be designed to assess the links between various quality-of-life domains for each person, and this information should be used when designing policies in various fields 193

6.3.4 Statistical offices should provide the information needed to aggregate across quality-of-life dimensions, allowing the construction of different indexes 194

6.3.5 Sustainability assessment requires a well-identified dashboard of indicators 199

6.3.6 The environmental aspects of sustainability deserve a separate follow-up based on a well-chosen set of physical indicators 203

6.4 Survey-based data on subjective wellbeing 204

6.5 Developments in measuring national wellbeing and progress around the world 205

6.6 Important issues in the measurement of national wellbeing 209

References 212

7 Wellbeing policy and measurement in the UK 217

References 233

8 Conclusions 236

8.1 Progress 236

8.2 Measuring wellbeing 241

8.3 New technologies, new data? 244

8.4 Beyond the economy 245

8.5 The future 249

References 250

Appendix: Sources of methods and measures of wellbeing and progress 253

Further reading 269

Index 271

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“Although there are brief discussions of technical topics like measurement theory, the book will be useful to researchers across a range of disciplines and the interested general reader.”  (Significance, 15 June 2015)

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