Social Indicators Research

, Volume 117, Issue 1, pp 235–255 | Cite as

Panel Conditioning and Subjective Well-being

  • Mark WoodenEmail author
  • Ning Li


The importance of panel, or longitudinal, survey data for analyzing subjective wellbeing, and especially its dynamics, is increasingly recognized. Analyses of such data, however, have to deal with two potential problems: (1) non-random attrition; and (2) panel conditioning. The former is a much researched topic. In contrast, panel conditioning has received much less attention from the research community. In this analysis, longitudinal survey data collected from members of a large national probability sample of households are used to examine whether self-reported measures of psychological well-being exhibit any tendency to change over time in a way that might reflect panel conditioning. Regression models are estimated that control for all time invariant influences as well as a set of time-varying influences. We find very little evidence that mean life satisfaction scores vary with length of time in the panel, especially once non-random attrition is controlled for. In contrast, scores on a measure of mental health do vary with time, and surprisingly men and women exhibit opposing patterns. For men, scores decline over time (though the estimates are not statistically robust), whereas for women the effects are both large and rise with time. Further, for both outcome measures there is a clear narrowing in the dispersion of reported scores over the first few waves of participation. The findings have implications for empirical research employing longitudinal data.


HILDA Survey Life satisfaction Longitudinal data Mental health Panel conditioning 



The research reported on in this paper was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (#DP1095497). The paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Survey Project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute). The authors also thank Robert Cummins and Nicole Watson for helpful advice and comments on an earlier version of this paper. The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to any of the aforementioned.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social ResearchUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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