, Volume 98, Issue 3, pp 403-434
Date: 13 Dec 2009

Stability and Sensitivity in Perceived Quality of Life Measures: Some Panel Results

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The aim of this study was to test a fundamental assumption concerning 27 of the most frequently used measures to assess aspects of the quality of people’s lives, e.g., measures concerning happiness, satisfaction with life as a whole, with the quality of one’s life, with domains of life (job, marriage, friendships), and with perceived gaps between what one has compared to what one wants, what one’s neighbor has and so on. The assumption is that such measures are sensitive to changes in the circumstances of one’s life measured by self-perceptions of change and by self-assessments of the net balance of salient positive and negative events one has experienced in some specified period of time. A total of 462 residents of British Columbia distributed across 3 different panels completed mailed-out questionnaires at 3 points in time in 2005, 06 and 07. Among other things, we found that measuring year-by-year changes in respondents’ life circumstances by reports of their own perception and experienced life events, on average the values of the 27 variables changed in ways that were consistent with respondents’ reported changes in 49.7% of the cases examined. The success rate of the assumption using self-perceptions of change (61.7%) was much higher than the success rate using a net balance of experienced events (37.3%).

We would like to express our thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for funding this research through the Gold Medal for Achievement in Research 2004. As well, we would like to thank John Helliwell and Richard Lucas for suggestions that improved the paper, and Joyce Henley, Office Manager of ISRE and all the anonymous respondents who shared their time and thoughts with us to make this report possible.