Life Satisfaction and Wellbeing

Nat O'Connor04/06/2013

Nat O'Connor: The Irish have reported a high level of "life satisfaction" in the OCED's latest Better Life Index. Yet, as pointed out by Richard Layte of the ESRI: “Ireland often does better on dimensions with more subjective assessment, as Irish people have an upward bias in their responses [and] so always profess higher satisfaction and well-being than other nations. Whether this reflects the reality is another issue.” (Irish Times 4th June 2013).

The OECD index is purposefully open for different interpretations. A viewer can choose to give different weights to health, education and other factors, in order see whether different priorities lead to different rankings among countries. Ireland ranks lower for income/wealth but higher for community and work-life balance. More detail on Ireland can be seen here.

As noted above, the Irish have a tendancy to report very high levels of subjective wellbeing, whatever the reality. These kinds of cultural differences can be measured to an extent. One clever technique, mentioned by Robert Anderson from Eurofound's Living Conditions and Quality of Life unit, is to ask people about the weather over the last month. This can be compared against the official records to give some sense of optimism/pessimism as a cultural trait. The Irish typically imagine there were several more days of sunshine than there really were, while some other European nations report less. (We clearly have to make the best of what little sunshine we get!)

This week (Thursday), the Whitaker Institute in NUI Galway (in collaboration with TASC) is hosting a conference on the topic of wellbeing and how it might be measured. As the CSO household survey and EU-SILC survey are both including measures of subjective wellbeing this year, it will be important to ensure that this data is interpretted in a way that enhances rather than masks other measures of quality of life and "quantity of life", including objective measurements like health inequalities and income disparities.

Dr Nat O'Connor     @natpolicy

Nat O'Connor

Nat O’Connor is a member of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences (IRiSS) and a Lecturer of Public Policy and Public Management in the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at Ulster University.

Previously Director of TASC, Nat also led the research team in Dublin’s Homeless Agency.

Nat holds a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College Dublin (2008) and an MA in Political Science and Social Policy form the University of Dundee (1998). Nat’s primary research interest is in how research-informed public policy can achieve social justice and human wellbeing. Nat’s work has focused on economic inequality, housing and homelessness, democratic accountability and public policy analysis. His PhD focused on public access to information as part of democratic policy making.


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