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Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being

Daniel Kahneman and Alan Krueger

Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2006, vol. 20, issue 1, 3-24

Abstract: Direct reports of subjective well-being may have a useful role in the measurement of consumer preferences and social welfare, if they can be done in a credible way. Can well-being be measured by a subjective survey, even approximately? In this paper, we discuss research on how individuals' responses to subjective well-being questions vary with their circumstances and other factors. We will argue that it is fruitful to distinguish among different conceptions of utility rather than presume to measure a single, unifying concept that motivates all human choices and registers all relevant feelings and experiences. While various measures of well-being are useful for some purposes, it is important to recognize that subjective well-being measures features of individuals' perceptions of their experiences, not their utility as economists typically conceive of it. Those perceptions are a more accurate gauge of actual feelings if they are reported closer to the time of, and in direct reference to, the actual experience. We conclude by proposing the U- index, a misery index of sorts, which measures the proportion of time that people spend in an unpleasant state, and has the virtue of not requiring a cardinal conception of individuals' feelings.

Date: 2006
Note: DOI: 10.1257/089533006776526030
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