Article summary of Well-being in metrics and policy by Graham et al. - Chapter

What is this article about?

This century has a lot of unprecedented economic development and improvements in longevity, health, and literacy. On the other side of the paradox, this century also deals with climate change, persistent poverty in the poorest countries, and increasing income inequality and unhappiness in many wealth countries. Economic growth measures are necessary but not sufficient to guarantee growth that is inclusive and politically and socially sustainable. Well-being metrices that are derived from large-scale surveys and questionnaires often provide a different picture. These metrics can provide key insights for economic and environmental sustainability. 

What are examples of paradoxical findings?

The United States have one of the wealthiest economies in the world, but life expectancy is falling. This comes from suicides and drug and alcohol overdoses. China is one of the most successful examples of rapid growth and poverty reduction, yet life satisfaction has fallen dramatically in the past decades. This is also the case for India, where the rapid economic success comes together with more unhappiness and ill-being.

Many studies demonstrate that non-income factors matter more to human welfare than standard economic models assume. Links between well-being, productivity, and health are critical to future sustainability.

How do we assess well-being?

There are three distinct dimensions of well-being in metrics that we use to assess well-being:

  • Hedonic. Hedonic metrics capture individuals' affective states and the role these play in daily living. 
  • Evaluative. Evaluative metrics are the most common. They assess individuals' satisfaction with their lives over their lifetime, including whether they can choose the kinds of lives they want to live.
  • Eudaimonic. Eudaimonic metrics ask whether individuals have a sense of purpose or meaning in their lives. 

Of what use are well-being metrics?

There is an underlying consistency in well-being metrics. Well-being metrics do have limitations. They can only infer causality when tracking the same respondents over time. Otherwise, there is often two-way causality. But well-being metrics can contribute to policy design, monitoring, and evaluation. Well-being metrics can also inform on social issues. Policies based solely on income-based cost-benefit analysis may fail to capture important side effects that we would be able to predict with well-being metrics.

Well-being metrics can also influence environmental sustainability. Policy that people associate with higher well-being is more accepted and integrated in society than policy that people feel costs them in their well-being. This is why many scholars now think that happiness should be the primary objective of policy, not economic growth. Skeptics believe that well-being metrics are valuable but should not be the only measures of success. It is at least safe to say that well-being metrics can serve to point to vulnerabilities in particular places or groups of people and to positive trends that could provide broader lessons. Economic growth indicators and well-being indicators can and should coexist to play a role in public debates and in debates about policy. 

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