, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 279-299

Social indicators of perceived life quality

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Modern societies in both developing and developed countries have real and legitimate concerns about the enhancement, maintenance, and redistribution of individual well-being. Indicators of perceived well-being provide direct measures of what societies are trying to achieve, permit cross-sector comparisons, can indicate the adequacy of coverage of ‘objective’ indicators, and can contribute to social policy making. in both the long and short run. Some commentators, however, have suggested perceptual indicators suffer from methodological weaknesses associated with their validity, interpretability, completeness, and utility. Each of these possible weaknesses is addressed in some detail. New research evidence and certain philosophical perspectives are presented, and it is concluded that none of these presumed weaknesses is sufficient to invalidate the development and use of perceptual indicators. Suggestions are made concerning methodological research needed to support the development of indicators of perceived well-being. It is noted that the materials and results developed in the author's research on Americans' perceptions of life quality may be useful for suggesting approaches to the development of indicators of perceived life quality relevant to other cultures.

Preparation of this paper was supported by grants GS-3322 and GS-42015 from the National Science Foundation. Some of the ideas presented herein were developed in the course of our participation in a panel on social indicators at the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, St. Louis, March 1974. This paper was presented at the Eighth World Congress of Sociology, Toronto, August 1974. I am grateful to Stephen Withey, Rick Crandall, and Angus Campbell for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.