Social Indicators Research

, Volume 106, Issue 1, pp 133–152 | Cite as

Using Capabilities as an Alternative Indicator for Well-being

  • Luc Van OotegemEmail author
  • Elsy VerhofstadtEmail author


This paper examines the potential of self-reported information on capabilities as an alternative indicator and aggregator for well-being. We survey a population of 18 year old first-year Bachelor students in applied economics and business studies and demonstrate a way in which capabilities can be measured on the level of life domains as well as on the general level of ‘life as a whole’. The data confirm the theoretical hypothesis that the set of capabilities is larger than the achieved functionings. We investigate and compare which variables influence general capabilities and satisfaction with life. We find that both concepts are equally depending on the ‘mood of the day’. On the other hand, we find some diverging influences that call for a debate on the (policy) relevance of different well-being concepts and their determining variables. The capabilities interpretation of well-being points to an important role of the parents (especially when they are divorced or rather strict) while the information on satisfaction is more related to personal and situational characteristics (such as not being single or the number of family visits).


Well-being Capabilities Life satisfaction Measurement of well-being Survey Students 



We would like to thank Tom Florin and Roeland Sercu for facilitating the data-gathering, an anonymous referee and the participants at the ‘New Directions in Welfare’ conference in Oxford (2009) for valuable comments and suggestions. This research benefits from the project WELLBEBE (SD/TA/09A) off the Belgian Science Policy.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.HABEUniversity College GhentGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Higher Institute of Labour Studies (HIVA)KULeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  3. 3.SherppaGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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