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The Challenges of Incorporating Empowerment into the HDI: Some Lessons from Happiness Economics and Quality of Life Research

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  • Carol Graham

    ()
    (Brookings Institution and University of Maryland)

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    Abstract

    The introduction of the HDI sparked a major debate about the adequacy of income as a measure of development. Perhaps as a result, scholars have developed a number of novel measures of well being. Prominent among these is the use of happiness surveys to study well being in its various dimensions, ranging from well being within persons, to the determinants of well being across individuals, to the effects of contextual factors, such as the environment, political regime, and macroeconomic conditions. Sen’s capabilities approach to poverty, which underlies the HDI, highlights the lack of capacity of the poor to make choices or to take certain actions. Happiness surveys are a means to assess the well being of individuals who are constrained in their capacity to make choices or reveal preferences. This paper reviews what we know about measuring quality of life, based on extensive work with happiness surveys in Latin America, and how that accumulated knowledge can inform the debate the HDI originally sparked. It also discusses how the surveys can contribute to our understanding and measurement of empowerment. It discusses the promises – and potential pitfalls – of directly applying the findings to policy, challenges which are germane to measuring and comparing empowerment across countries.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its series Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) with number HDRP-2010-13.

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    Length: 58 pages
    Date of creation: Jul 2010
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    Publication status: Published as background research for the 2010 Human Development Report.
    Handle: RePEc:hdr:papers:hdrp-2010-13

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    Keywords: empowerment; poverty; happiness; policy;

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    1. DiTella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "Preferences over inflation and unemployment: Evidence from surveys of happiness," ZEI Working Papers B 03-2001, ZEI - Center for European Integration Studies, University of Bonn.
    2. Geeta G. Kingdon & John Knight, 2004. "Community, Comparisons and Subjective Well-being in a Divided Society," CSAE Working Paper Series 2004-21, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
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