Applied Research in Quality of Life

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 911–924 | Cite as

Informing Policy Priorities using Inference from Life Satisfaction Responses in a Large Community Survey

  • Christopher Barrington-Leigh
  • Jan T. Wollenberg


Self-reported, quantitative, subjective measures of well-being, such as satisfaction with life overall, are increasingly looked to as measures of public welfare. While this trend is visible at the international and national government levels, regional initiatives and local communities are particularly important in seeking meaningful measures of the quality of human experience and of the success of local policies. Unlike other approaches in which well-being or progress indices are constructed using arbitrary or expert-generated weights on various domains of life experience, subjective well-being can be used to evaluate empirically the relative importance of specific measurable conditions and experiences in supporting a good life. Using a new, large community well-being survey carried out across the U.S. state of Connecticut, we use this method to evaluate the relationship between life satisfaction and a range of other socioeconomic circumstances and conditions. In support of a broad existing literature, we find enormous effects of security and social engagement as compared with variations in income. We then proceed to consider the prevalence of different socioeconomic conditions, in addition to their relative importance to affected individuals, to make inferences about the benefit-costs of feasible state and local policies. There remain some conditions, like social trust and the perceived responsiveness of local government to the needs of residents, which appear very important to well-being but for which the relationship with targeted resource allocation requires further investigation or policy experimentation.


Life satisfaction Subjective well-being Community well-being Social welfare Policy prioritization USA 



We are grateful to Mark Abraham and Datahaven for providing data and for helpful discussions at every stage of the work. This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (grant 435-2016-0531).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

11482_2018_9629_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature and The International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Barrington-Leigh
    • 1
  • Jan T. Wollenberg
    • 2
  1. 1.McGill Institute for Health and Social PolicyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Department of GeographyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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