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Challenges in Constructing a Survey-Based Well-Being Index

Listed author(s):
  • Daniel J. Benjamin
  • Kristen Cooper
  • Ori Heffetz
  • Miles S. Kimball

Many in both government and academia are showing renewed interest in developing new measures of national well-being. A new measure that goes “beyond GDP” to comprehensively capture non-market goods could be a useful supplement to traditional economic indicators for guiding policy and more accurately tracking welfare. But how should national well-being be conceptualized in theory? How could it be measured in practice? How could it be constructed in a systematic and politically neutral way? These questions should be approached by economists with the same level of care that has been taken in the theoretical and practical development of GDP. In this short paper, we focus on one conceptual framework (Benjamin, Heffetz, Kimball, and Szembrot, 2014), which uses self-reported responses to subjective well-being (SWB) and stated preference (SP) survey questions to construct an index of well-being. We briefly review the framework and highlight challenges in the first two steps a government agency would need to take before conducting the SWB and SP surveys: (1) formulating a set of aspects of well-being that is theoretically valid and can be measured accurately via surveys; and (2) choosing and interpreting the surveys’ response scales.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23111.

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Date of creation: Jan 2017
Publication status: published as Daniel J. Benjamin & Kristen B. Cooper & Ori Heffetz & Miles Kimball, 2017. "Challenges in Constructing a Survey-Based Well-Being Index," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 81-85, May.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23111
Note: AG CH EFG LE LS PE POL
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  1. Fleurbaey, Marc & Blanchet, Didier, 2013. "Beyond GDP: Measuring Welfare and Assessing Sustainability," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199767199.
  2. Angus Deaton & Arthur A. Stone, 2016. "Understanding context effects for a measure of life evaluation: how responses matter," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(4), pages 861-870.
  3. Kelvin J. Lancaster, 1966. "A New Approach to Consumer Theory," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 74, pages 132-132.
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