, Volume 97, Issue 1, pp 43-63,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Agency, Values, and Well-Being: A Human Development Model


This paper argues that feelings of agency are linked to human well-being through a sequence of adaptive mechanisms that promote human development, once existential conditions become permissive. In the first part, we elaborate on the evolutionary logic of this model and outline why an evolutionary perspective is helpful to understand changes in values that give feelings of agency greater weight in shaping human well-being. In the second part, we test the key links in this model with data from the World Values Surveys using ecological regressions and multi-level models, covering some 80 societies worldwide. Empirically, we demonstrate evidence for the following sequence: (1) in response to widening opportunities of life, people place stronger emphasis on emancipative values, (2) in response to a stronger emphasis on emancipative values, feelings of agency gain greater weight in shaping people’s life satisfaction, (3) in response to a greater impact of agency feelings on life satisfaction, the level of life satisfaction itself rises. Further analyses show that this model is culturally universal because taking into account the strength of a society’s western tradition does not render insignificant these adaptive linkages. Precisely because of its universality, this is indeed a ‘human’ development model in a most general sense.