Social Indicators Research

, Volume 135, Issue 3, pp 893–925 | Cite as

Measuring Progress and Well-Being: A Comparative Review of Indicators

  • Christopher Barrington-LeighEmail author
  • Alice Escande


We provide a new database sampling well-being and progress indicators implemented since the 1970s at all geographic scales. Starting from an empirical assessment, we describe and quantify trends in the institutional basis, methodology, and content of indicators which are intended to capture the broadest conceptions of human social progress. We pay special attention to the roles of sustainability and subjective well-being in these efforts, and find that certain types of indicators are more successful in terms of transparency, accountability, as well as longevity. Our taxonomy encompasses money-denominated accounts of “progress”, unaggregated collections of indicators, indices, and measures oriented around subjective well-being. We find that a most promising innovation is the indices whose weights are accountable to empirical data, in particular through models of subjective well-being. We conclude by amplifying others’ advocacy for the appropriate separation of current well-being from environmental indicators, and for the avoidance of aggregation except where it is meaningful.


Well-being Progress Quality of life Subjective well-being Life satisfaction Sustainable development Genuine progress 



We are grateful to Lorrie Herbault, Katie Keys, and Julianne Skarha for excellent research assistance; to Michael Abramson, Stefan Bergheim, Jon Hall, John Helliwell, and Raynald L´etourneau for helpful discussions; and for funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds de recherche du Québec—Société et culture. Funding was provided by SSHRC (Grant No. 435-2016-0531) and FQRSC (Grant No. 166682).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Sciences PoParisFrance

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