, Volume 112, Issue 3, pp 611-640
Date: 04 May 2012

What are The Best and Worst Times in the Lives of South African Township Dwellers? A Content Analysis of the Self-Defined End-Anchors for Bernheim’s ACSA Scale of Subjective Well-Being

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Bernheim’s ACSA, a less conventional measure of subjective well-being originally developed for use in a clinical setting, was applied to a sample of black South African township dwellers (n = 1,020) in the Eastern Cape Province. The Anamnestic Comparative Self Assessment is an experiential self-anchoring scale with concrete anchors (Bernheim in Psychologie médicale 15:1625–1626, 1983). Respondents described the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ periods experienced in their lives in their own words and rated their current life situation within these two extremes that served as the end-anchors of an 11-point rating scale, ACSA. The ACSA score was significantly positively correlated with conventional measures of subjective well-being. The study examined in detail the content of the ACSA anchors, the best and worst periods of respondents’ lives, classified by domain, to gain insights into reference comparisons applied in quality-of-life evaluation in a developing country setting. As was the case in earlier ACSA studies, most domains that served as reference standards were related to the self and family life. However, material living standards, represented by the domains of income, financial security and housing also featured prominently as personal anchors—a reflection of life goals in post-apartheid South Africa. Age, gender, education and self-reported health were associated with the choice of select anchors. The discussion provides pointers for future applications of ACSA in large sample surveys using a pre-coded multiple-choice format for anchor descriptions. It is concluded that the content of ACSA anchors corresponds closely to contemporary definitions of the good life among ordinary South Africans.