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The Reliability of Subjective Well-Being Measures

  • Alan B. Krueger

    (Princeton University)

  • David A. Schkade

    (University of California, San Diego)

Economists are increasingly analyzing data on subjective well-being. Since 2000, 157 papers and numerous books have been published in the economics literature using data on life satisfaction or subjective well-being, according to a search of Econ Lit.1 Here we analyze the test-retest reliability of two measures of subjective well-being: a standard life satisfaction question and affective experience measures derived from the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM). Although economists have longstanding reservations about the feasibility of interpersonal comparisons of utility that we can only partially address here, another question concerns the reliability of such measurements for the same set of individuals over time. Overall life satisfaction should not change very much from week to week. Likewise, individuals who have similar routines from week to week should experience similar feelings over time. How persistent are individuals’ responses to subjective well-being questions? To anticipate our main findings, both measures of subjective well-being (life satisfaction and affective experience) display a serial correlation of about 0.60 when assessed two weeks apart, which is lower than the reliability ratios typically found for education, income and many other common micro economic variables (Bound, Brown, and Mathiowetz, 2001 and Angrist and Krueger, 1999), but high enough to support much of the research that has been undertaken on subjective well-being.

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Paper provided by Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies. in its series Working Papers with number 64.

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Date of creation: Jan 2007
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Handle: RePEc:pri:cepsud:138krueger
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  1. Jonathan Gruber & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier?," NBER Working Papers 8872, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Sonja Lyubomirsky & Heidi Lepper, 1999. "A Measure of Subjective Happiness: Preliminary Reliability and Construct Validation," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 46(2), pages 137-155, February.
  3. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, . "What can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," IEW - Working Papers 080, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  4. Joshua Angrist & Alan Krueger, 1998. "Empirical Strategies in Labor Economics," Working Papers 780, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  5. Bound, John & Brown, Charles & Mathiowetz, Nancy, 2001. "Measurement error in survey data," Handbook of Econometrics, in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 59, pages 3705-3843 Elsevier.
  6. Richard Kammann & Marcelle Farry & Peter Herbison, 1984. "The analysis and measurement of happiness as a sense of well-being," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 15(2), pages 91-115, August.
  7. Nicolai Kristensen & Niels Westergaard-Nielsen, 2007. "Reliability of job satisfaction measures," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 273-292, June.
  8. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2004. "Well-being over time in Britain and the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1359-1386, July.
  9. Richard B. Freeman, 1977. "Job Satisfaction as an Economic Variable," NBER Working Papers 0225, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Michael Eid & Ed Diener, 2004. "Global Judgments of Subjective Well-Being: Situational Variability and Long-Term Stability," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 65(3), pages 245-277, February.
  11. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 2004. "Money, Sex, and Happiness: An Empirical Study," NBER Working Papers 10499, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. DiTella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert & Oswald, Andrew J., 1999. "The macroeconomics of happiness," ZEI Working Papers B 03-1999, ZEI - Center for European Integration Studies, University of Bonn.
  13. Malcolm Patterson & Peter Warr & Michael West, 2004. "Organizational climate and company productivity: the role of employee affect and employee level," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19977, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  14. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
  15. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger & David Schkade & Norbert Schwarz & Arthur A. Stone, 2006. "Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion," Working Papers 77, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
  16. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger, 2006. "Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
  17. Paul Frijters & John P. Haisken-DeNew & Michael A. Shields, 2004. "Money Does Matter! Evidence from Increasing Real Income and Life Satisfaction in East Germany Following Reunification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 730-740, June.
  18. John Yardley & Robert Rice, 1991. "The relationship between mood and subjective well-being," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 24(1), pages 101-111, February.
  19. White, Halbert, 1980. "A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(4), pages 817-38, May.
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