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

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Richard A. Burns.

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Burns, R.A. The Utility of Between-Nation Subjective Wellbeing Comparisons Amongst Nations Within the European Social Survey. J Happiness Stud 20, 683–705 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-018-9964-4

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Keywords

  • Wellbeing
  • Subjective well-being
  • Happiness
  • Life satisfaction
  • National differences