Understanding Well-being Data

chapter 3 Looking at Well-being Data in Context

3 Looking at Well-being Data in Context

Understanding the where, what, how, who and why is important to any social research. This chapter poses these questions about data and well-being in various ways. We look at well-being measurement, appraising the pros and cons of different forms of data and approaches, acknowledging that all data have limits and that context should drive any chosen approach. It presents examples of qualitative data available through interviews and ethnographies, and quantitative data through surveys, and administrative records. We focus on objective well-being data and a case study of the OECD reveals the volume of decision-making behind international objective indicators. Such human intervention is rarely visible, but is important and useful to improve understanding and comprehension of well-being data more generally.

3.2Accounts of Well-being

Example 1 Wellbeing is a positive state that people experience when they are able to meet their needs for strong social relationships, equality of opportunity, rewarding work, economic and physical security, health, and opportunities to participate in cultural activities and enjoy contact with nature. It is enhanced when an individual is able to fulfil personal goals and achieve a sense […]

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3.2.1Objective lists

Objective lists of well-being involve a list of assumptions regarding basic human needs, rights and conditions that are believed to impact on well-being. A simplified example is the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a composite index of three separate indicators: life expectancy, education and gross national income per capita. A composite index means a single number is calculated from […]

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3.2.2Preference satisfaction

Preference satisfaction accounts work on the premise that ‘what is best for someone is what would best fulfil all of his((His desires being all that were considered important in 1984, of course)) desires’1. This is how economists have long approached understanding well-being2. The rationale behind expressing well-being like this for economists is that people’s preferences are revealed by what they […]

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3.2.3Mental States (or Subjective Well-being)

Subjective well-being is ‘an umbrella term’1 which covers three strands of a person’s self-assessment of their happiness levels: life satisfaction, mood and meaning. The whole of Chap. 4 is about subjective well-being, so we only cover it briefly here. The term can also, confusingly, be used to just describe mood or happiness, rather than necessarily encompassing all concepts. Subjective well-being […]

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3.3Everyday well-being data: asking people questions about their lives

Well-being data are not only for policy-makers or international economic development agencies. They can be collected in various ways available to us in everyday situations. Many of us have seen an increase in emails popping into our inboxes or Facebook timelines asking us to complete some kind of questionnaire about our well-being. COVID-19 has seen collection of these kinds of […]

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3.3.1Questionnaire data

If the idea of data collection is new to you, perhaps the easiest way to imagine well-being data being collected is by using a questionnaire that asks people how they feel about things related to their well-being. Questionnaires are easily distributed, and ask the same questions in the same way and can be repeated numerous times with the same or […]

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3.3.2Interview data

Interviewers are able to ask people what they think well-being means and what things are important in their life. We have already noted that questionnaires are used in national-level survey data collection; these usually use closed questions which can easily be added up quantitatively. The questions are asked by ‘interviewers’, whose job is to ask closed questions and make the […]

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3.3.3Ethnographic data

Another way that interview data might be useful for understanding well-being would be in the case of ethnographic research investigating the impact of a social policy. Ethnography involves a researcher spending a long time in their research site. This means they understand as much about the context in which they are collecting data as possible. For example, Kelly Bogue was […]

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3.3.4Secondary qualitative data

Qualitative data are increasingly collected with a view to the data being used again. This means those collecting data must be mindful of this when designing the questions asked and ensuring interviewees give permissions for storage, secondary access (used by someone else) and re-use (in publications or otherwise). Secondary data usage involves analysing data collected by someone else, as opposed […]

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