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A Survey of Indicators of Economic and Social Well-being

Listed author(s):
  • Andrew Sharpe


In recent years, interest in aggregate or composite indicators of economic and social well-being at the community, national and international levels has grown greatly. For example, the release each year of the United Nations?Human Development Index (HDI) generates considerable media interest, particularly in Canada. Equally, the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) produced by the think tank Redefining Progress has become very well known in a short period of time, and is referred to often in debates on the inadequacies of GDP as a welfare measure. Many communities in Canada and in the United States have attempted to develop social indicators to monitor trends in the welfare of their citizens. The objective of this paper is to provide a survey of the major indicators of economic and social well-being that have been developed at the national and international levels. The paper is divided into three main parts. The first provides a short overview of social indicators, looking at the history of the social indicators movement, types of social indicators, purposes of social indicators, and noting how the development of summary indexes, the focus of this paper, represents the latest phase in the history of social indicators. The second part summarizes what the author believes are the best known and most important indexes of economic and social well-being that have been developed. The third section of the paper discusses a number of issues in the construction of indexes of economic and social well-being, including criteria for index evaluation and application to the indexes developed for Canada; single versus multiple indicator approaches; money versus composite indicators; weighting issues in composite indicators; national versus community indicators; bottom-up versus top-down index design; advocacy versus knowledge-driven indicators; ad hoc versus theoretically consistent indicators; and technical issues in index construction.

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Paper provided by Centre for the Study of Living Standards in its series CSLS Research Reports with number 99wb.

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Date of creation: Jul 1999
Handle: RePEc:sls:resrep:99wb
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  1. ED Diener, 1995. "A value based index for measuring national quality of life," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 36(2), pages 107-127, October.
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