Social Indicators Research

, Volume 58, Issue 1–3, pp 33–46 | Cite as

Why Social Policy Needs Subjective Indicators

  • Runt Veenhoven


There are many qualms about subjective indicators, and some believe that social policy would be better for not using them. This paper consists of a review of these objections. It is argued that policy makers need subjective indicators, the main reasons being:

1. Social policy is never limited to merely material matters; it is also aimed at matters of mentality. These substantially subjective goals require subjective indicators.

2. Progress in material goals can not always be measured objectively. Subjective measurement is often better.

3. Inclusive measurement is problematic with objective substance. Current sum-scores make little sense. Using subjective satisfaction better indicates comprehensive quality.

4. Objective indicators do little to inform policy makers about public preferences. Since the political process also does not reflect public preferences too well, policy makers need additional information from opinion polls.

5. Policy makers must distinguish between `wants' and `needs’. Needs are not observable as such, but their gratification materialises in the length and happiness of peoples' lives. This final output criterion requires assessment of subjective appreciation of life-as-a-whole


Policy Maker Social Policy Subjective Measurement Output Criterion Final Output 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Runt Veenhoven
    • 1
  1. 1.Erasmus University Rotterdam and University of UtrechtThe Netherlands

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