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Assessing the validity of single-item life satisfaction measures: results from three large samples

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The present paper assessed the validity of single-item life satisfaction measures by comparing single-item measures to the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS)—a more psychometrically established measure.


Two large samples from Washington (N = 13,064) and Oregon (N = 2,277) recruited by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and a representative German sample (N = 1,312) recruited by the Germany Socio-Economic Panel were included in the present analyses. Single-item life satisfaction measures and the SWLS were correlated with theoretically relevant variables, such as demographics, subjective health, domain satisfaction, and affect. The correlations between the two life satisfaction measures and these variables were examined to assess the construct validity of single-item life satisfaction measures.


Consistent across three samples, single-item life satisfaction measures demonstrated substantial degree of criterion validity with the SWLS (zero-order r = 0.62–0.64; disattenuated r = 0.78–0.80). Patterns of statistical significance for correlations with theoretically relevant variables were the same across single-item measures and the SWLS. Single-item measures did not produce systematically different correlations compared to the SWLS (average difference = 0.001–0.005). The average absolute difference in the magnitudes of the correlations produced by single-item measures and the SWLS was very small (average absolute difference = 0.015–0.042).


Single-item life satisfaction measures performed very similarly compared to the multiple-item SWLS. Social scientists would get virtually identical answer to substantive questions regardless of which measure they use.

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  1. A previous study used the same dataset as Study 1 in the current paper, but comparing single-item and multiple-item measures was not the focus [18]. The goal of this previous study was to provide baseline estimates of mental, social, and physical well-being for states overall and for different subgroups (e.g., racial groups and age groups, etc).

  2. The SWLS was included in the New Hampshire BRFSS. However, there is difficulty obtaining the data due to recent personnel change at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

  3. The item “If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing” is not included in BRFSS. BRFSS tested the 4 item versus the 5 item versions of SWLS and found no difference.

  4. No other variables were analyzed but not reported.

  5. No other variables were analyzed but not reported.

  6. Disattenuated correlation is calculated using in-sample reliability estimate was used for the SWLS. The reliability estimate for the GSOEP (0.74) from Lucas and Donnellan was used for the single-item measure [12].


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This research was supported by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation awarded to the first author and by funding from the National Institute on Aging (AG040715) awarded to the second author.

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Correspondence to Felix Cheung.

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Cheung, F., Lucas, R.E. Assessing the validity of single-item life satisfaction measures: results from three large samples. Qual Life Res 23, 2809–2818 (2014).

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