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Using capabilities as an alternative indicator for well-being



Direct measurement of capabilities is scarce, mainly because questions arise concerning their observability. This paper lines up with the kind of ‘primary data’ base research as it is pioneered in Anand & Van Hees (2006) and Anand et al (2009) and shows the potential of information on subjective capabilities as indicator and aggregator for well-being. We develop a questionnaire which consistently makes the distinction between functionings and capabilities on the one hand, and between the measurement and valuation of these functionings and capabilities on the other hand. We survey a population of 18 year old first year Bachelor students in applied economics and business studies. We show that capabilities can be subjectively measured. The data confirm the theoretical hypothesis that the set of capabilities is larger than the achieved functionings. Information on capabilities can be a suitable “object of valuation” for wellbeing research. To some extent, the explanatory variables behind the capabilities interpretation of well-being (eg. the role of the parents especially when they are divorced) are more relevant for policy compared to the variables influencing satisfaction with life (eg. not being single), because they are more beyond the control of the individual.

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Paper provided by Ghent University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration in its series Working Papers of Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Belgium with number 10/677.

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Length: 23 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:rug:rugwps:10/677
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  1. Henry Chow, 2005. "Life Satisfaction Among University Students in a Canadian Prairie City: a Multivariate Analysis," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 70(2), pages 139-150, 01.
  2. Paul Anand & Graham Hunter & Ron Smith, 2004. "Capabilities and Wellbeing: Evidence Based on the Sen-Nussbaum Approach to Welfare," Open Discussion Papers in Economics 47, The Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economics.
  3. Costanza, Robert & Fisher, Brendan & Ali, Saleem & Beer, Caroline & Bond, Lynne & Boumans, Roelof & Danigelis, Nicholas L. & Dickinson, Jennifer & Elliott, Carolyn & Farley, Joshua & Gayer, Diane Elli, 2007. "Quality of life: An approach integrating opportunities, human needs, and subjective well-being," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(2-3), pages 267-276, March.
  4. Ana Moro-Egido & Judith Panades, 2010. "An Analysis of Student Satisfaction: Full-Time vs. Part-Time Students," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 96(2), pages 363-378, April.
  5. Sabina Alkire, 2005. "Why the Capability Approach?," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(1), pages 115-135.
  6. 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.
  7. Marc Fleurbaey, 2006. "Capabilities, Functionings and Refined Functionings," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(3), pages 299-310.
  8. Anand, Paul & van Hees, Martin, 2006. "Capabilities and achievements: An empirical study," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 268-284, April.
  9. Fleurbaey, Marc, 2008. "Fairness, Responsibility, and Welfare," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199215911, July.
  10. Jacolyn Norrish & Dianne Vella-Brodrick, 2008. "Is the Study of Happiness a Worthy Scientific Pursuit?," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 87(3), pages 393-407, July.
  11. Sawa, Takamitsu, 1978. "Information Criteria for Discriminating among Alternative Regression Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(6), pages 1273-91, November.
  12. Gasper, Des, 2007. "What is the capability approach?: Its core, rationale, partners and dangers," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 335-359, June.
  13. Sen, Amartya, 1984. "The Living Standard," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 36(0), pages 74-90, Supplemen.
  14. Tania Burchardt, 2009. "Agency Goals, Adaptation and Capability Sets," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(1), pages 3-19.
  15. Hilke Brockmann & Jan Delhey, 2010. "Introduction: The Dynamics of Happiness and the Dynamics of Happiness Research," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 97(1), pages 1-5, May.
  16. Erik Schokkaert, 2007. "Capabilities and Satisfaction with Life," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 8(3), pages 415-430.
  17. Paul Anand & Graham Hunter & Ian Carter & Keith Dowding & Francesco Guala & Martin Van Hees, 2009. "The Development of Capability Indicators," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(1), pages 125-152.
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