The project:

Recent years have seen a rapid growth in the availability of, and interest in, subjective well-being data in the UK and beyond. Published academic evidence suggests implications for a wide-range of policy areas including: taxation, income and benefits; employment and labour markets; housing and public services; urban design; and public engagement and participation. As well as this burgeoning academic interest, there has been a big growth in interest from official statistics offices. There are now 34 official and semi-official surveys in Europe which include subjective well-being items. These data are a hugely valuable resource in providing information about the policy-relevant factors that enhance people’s lives.This project therefore aims to build sustained public and political interest in the use of well-being data, and to explore where policy recommendations based on well-being data are possible.It will in particular build on four areas of work within the well-being research field:

  • The first is the design of accessible headline indicators to communicate progress and change in population well-being, based on subjective well-being data.
  • The second area is the analysis of national and cross-national subjective well-being data to draw out policy relevant findings.
  • The third area of research is concerned with the well-being of societies as a whole.
  • The fourth is the study of barriers to the use of well-being data in policy-making.

The focus will primarily be on a UK audience, but with the intention of locating the UK experience within a broader European context. The main data source is the European Social Survey, a methodologically rigorous and robust social survey with an ‘effective sample size’ of 1500 respondents in around 30 countries. The core survey includes several questions on individual and societal well-being within its ‘core’ modules. A wellbeing module has been included in Round 3 (fieldwork in 2006) and Round 6 (2012), collaboratively designed by CCSS (the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys), nef (the New Economics Foundation) and the Well-Being Institute at Cambridge University. The comprehensive socio-demographic data within the survey allows analysis of factors associated with high and low well-being; the sample size enables exploration of inequalities in well-being within countries; and the time frame enables exploration of how well-being has changed prior to and during the economic crisis.

The project involves a collaboration between City University London, the New Economics Foundation and Cambridge University, and will run from February 2015. It will elicit more than a set of headline indicator results, seeking to create a meaningful debate about effectual policy responses.

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