Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 683–705 | Cite as

The Utility of Between-Nation Subjective Wellbeing Comparisons Amongst Nations Within the European Social Survey

  • Richard A. BurnsEmail author
Research Paper


Between-nation differences in wellbeing are frequently reported. Such differences are attributed to between-nation differences in social, economic and political factors. However, there is a likelihood that between-nation differences are over-estimated as they fail to account for the extent to which wellbeing varies within-nation owing to within-nation factors. Participant data for 43,000 participants from 23 countries was obtained from wave 3 of the European Social Survey in 2006. Analyses were undertaken in a multi-level framework with citizens nested within-nation in order to derive maximum likelihood estimates and standard error which adjust for the nested data hierarchy. Participant data was adjusted for (1) a design weight which adjusted for a sampling probability reflecting their likelihood of being recruited for the study, and (2) a population weight which adjusts for the extent individuals reflected a nation’s population. Across wellbeing indicators, most variance was accounted for at the within-nation level (> 95%). Within-nation factors were the strongest drivers of wellbeing. Best linear unbiased predictions indicated that raw national aggregated well-being means over-estimate between-nation wellbeing differences. Many prior cross-national wellbeing comparisons likely overestimate between-nation differences as they fail to account for the nested data structure in which individual citizens are nested within countries. Between-nation factors were not substantive drivers of wellbeing outcomes in comparison with within-nation effects and interpretation of any between-nation effects need to be carefully considered since so little wellbeing variance is accounted for at the between-nation level.


Wellbeing Subjective well-being Happiness Life satisfaction National differences 

Supplementary material

10902_2018_9964_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 22 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and WellbeingThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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