, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 1-19

The validity of measures of self-reported well-being

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Using a new analytic approach, construct validity estimates are developed for proposed social indicators of self-reported well-being. Two separate investigations are reported: the first involves data on six aspects of well-being each assessed by six methods from 222 adults in one geographic area; the second, a partial replication and extension, involves a more limited set of indicators measured on a sample of 1297 respondents representative of all American adults.

The results provide evidence that perceptions of well-being can be measured by single questionnaire or interview items using any of four formats with validities in the range of 0.7 to 0.8 and with correlated method effects contributing less than 10% of the total variance. Two other formats, however, were markedly less valid. These findings are important in view of past criticisms of ‘subjective’ social indicators as lacking in validity, and the findings can guide current efforts to develop new ways to assess the quality of life.

Methodologically, the article illustrates the feasibility and utility of deriving parameter estimates of structural equation models of multimethod-multitrait data using Joreskog's LISREL algorithm. The possibility of deriving validity estimates in this way, even when the data include correlated errors, opens new and important opportunities to precisely assess the amount of error variance in much social science data.

These investigations were part of a larger project titled Development and Measurement of Social Indicators which was directed by Frank M. Andrews and Stephen B. Withey and supported by the National Science Foundation through grants GS-3322 and GS-42015. A comprehensive report of the whole project is presented in Andrews and Withey, 1976. We are indebted to Marita DiLorenzi for assistance with the preparation and processing of the data presented in this article.
The second author's current address is Institute for Child Behavior and Development, University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill.61820.