, Volume 65, Issue 1, pp 27-72

Social Indicators Research and Health-Related Quality of Life Research

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Abstract

The aim of this essay is to build a bridgebetween two intersecting areas of research,social indicators research on the one hand andhealth-related quality of life research on theother. The first substantive section of thepaper introduces key concepts and definitionsin the social indicators research tradition,e.g., social indicators, positive, negative,input and output indicators, social reports andquality of life. After that, there is asection reviewing some historical origins andmotives of social indicators researchers,beginning roughly with Jeremy Bentham's`felicific calculus' and ending with the searchfor a comprehensive accounting scheme capableof measuring the quality of human existencewith social, economic and environmentalindicators.Results of eleven surveys are reviewed whichwere undertaken to explain happiness on thebasis of levels of satisfaction thatrespondents got from a dozen specific domainsof their lives, e.g., satisfaction with theirjobs, family relations and health. On average,for the eleven samples, we were able to explain38% of the variance in reported happiness fromsome subset of the predictor variables. Satisfaction with one's own health was never the strongest predictor of happiness inany sample. In five of the eleven samples,satisfaction with one's own health failed toenter the final explanatory regression equationfor lack of statistical significance. Theresults in this section of the essay show thatdifferent groups of people with different lifecircumstances, resources and constraints usedifferent mixtures of ingredients to determinetheir happiness.After examining some research revealing therelative importance of people's satisfaction with their health to theiroverall happiness, I consider some studiesrevealing the importance of people's self-reported health to their overallhappiness. Self-reported health is measuredprimarily by the eight dimensions of SF-36.When a variety of additional potentialpredictors are entered into our regressionequation, 44% of the variance in happinessscores is explained, but only one of the eightdimensions of SF-36 remains, namely, MentalHealth. The latter accounts for a mere four%age points out of the total 44. Thus,self-reported health has relatively little tocontribute toward respondents' reportedhappiness, and its measured contribution issignificantly affected by the number and kindsof potential predictors employed.Two approaches to explaining people'ssatisfaction with their own health areconsidered. First, using the same set ofhealth-related potential predictors of overallhappiness, we are able to explain 56% of thevariance in respondents' satisfaction withtheir own health. Then, using MultipleDiscrepancies Theory, we are able to explainabout 51% of the variation in satisfactionwith one's own health scores for 8,076undergraduates, with highs of 76% for a sampleof Finnish females and 72% for Korean males.Accordingly, it is reasonable to conclude thatif one's aim is to explain people'ssatisfaction with their own health, thepotential predictors assembled in MDT canprovide quite a bit and sometimes even moreexplanatory power than a reasonably broad setof measures of self-reported health.In the penultimate section of the essay it isargued that there are good reasons forcarefully distinguishing ideas of health andquality of life, and for not interpreting SF-36and SIP scores as measures of the quality oflife. It is suggested that we might all bebetter off if the term `health-related qualityof life' is simply abandoned. However, sincethis is unlikely to happen, it is stronglyrecommended that researchers be much morecareful with their usage of the phrase andtheir interpretation of purported measures ofwhatever the phrase is supposed to designate.