Developing a National Index of Subjective Wellbeing: The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index


The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index has beendesigned as a new barometer of Australians'satisfaction with their lives, and life inAustralia. It is based on, and develops, thetheoretical model of subjective wellbeinghomeostasis. The Index comprises two sub-scalesof Personal and National Wellbeing. Data werecollected through a nationally representativesample of 2,000 people in April/May 2001.Factor analysis confirmed the integrity of thetwo sub-scales and, confirming empiricalexpectation, the average level of lifesatisfaction was 75.5 percent of the scalemaximum score. Group comparisons revealed thatall age groups maintained their Personal Indexscore within the normal range. In addition,people in country areas were more satisfiedwith their personal lives than city-dwellers,but less satisfied about the nationalsituation, and people who had recentlyexperienced a strong positive event evidenced arise in wellbeing, whereas those who hadexperienced a strong negative event evidencedwellbeing in the low-normal range. It is arguedthat these data generally support homeostatictheory. However, an unusual result was thatfemales were more satisfied with their ownlives than males. A tentative argument isadvanced that this may represent aconstitutional difference. It is concluded thatthe Australian Unity Wellbeing Index haspotential as a valid, reliable and sensitiveinstrument to monitor national wellbeing.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Andrews, F. M. and S. B. Withey: 1976, Social indicators of well-being: American's perceptions of life quality (Plenum Press, New York).

  2. Bat-Chava, Y.: 1994, 'Group identification and self-esteem of deaf adults', Personality and Social Psychology Behavior 20, pp. 494–502.

  3. Best, C. J., R. A. Cummins and S. K. Lo: 2000, 'The quality of rural and metropolitan life', Australian Journal of Psychology 52(2), pp. 69–74.

  4. Campbell, A., P. E. Converse and W. L. Rodgers: 1976, The quality of American life: perceptions, evaluations, and satisfactions (Russell Sage Foundation, New York).

  5. Cummins, R. A.: 1995, 'On the trail of the gold standard for life satisfaction', Social Indicators Research 35, pp. 179–200.

  6. Cummins, R. A.: 1996, 'The domains of life satisfaction: an attempt to order chaos', Social Indicators Research 38, pp. 303–332.

  7. Cummins, R. A.: 1997a, Comprehensive quality of life scale-adult. Manual: fifth edition (School of Psychology, Deakin University, Melbourne).

  8. Cummins, R. A.: 1997b, 'Assessing quality of life for people with disabilities', In: R. I. Brown (ed.), Quality of Life for Handicapped People, Second Edition, pp. 116–150 (Stanley Thomas, Cheltenham, England).

  9. Cummins, R. A.: 1998, 'The second approximation to an international standard of life satisfaction', Social Indicators Research 43, pp. 307–334.

  10. Cummins, R. A.: 2001, 'The subjective well-being of people caring for a severely disabled family member at home: a review', Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability 26, pp. 83–100.

  11. Cummins, R. A.: 2002, 'Normative life satisfaction: measurement issues and a homeostatic model', Social Indicators Research (in press).

  12. Cummins, R. A. and H. Nistico: 2002, 'Maintaining life satisfaction: the role of positive cognitive bias', Journal of Happiness Studies 3, pp. 37–69.

  13. Cummins, R. A., R. Eckersley, J. Pallant, J. Van Vugt, J. Shelley, M. Pusey andR. Misajon: 2001, Australian Unity Well-Being Index: Report #1 (AustralianCentre on Quality of Life, Deakin University) (

  14. Cummins, R. A., E. Gullone and A. L. D. Lau: 2002, 'A model for subjective well-being homeostasis: the role of personality', In: E. Gullone and R. A. Cummins (eds.), The Universality of Subjective Well-Being Indicators. Social Indicators Research Book Series (in press) (Kluwer, Dordrecht).

  15. Diener, E.: 2000, 'Subjective well-being: the science of happiness and a proposal for a national index', American Psychologist 55, pp. 34–43.

  16. Diener, E., E. Such, R. Lucas and H. Smith: 1999, 'Subjective well-being three decades of progress', Psychological Bulletin 125, pp. 276–302.

  17. Dodge, R. and E. Kahn: 1931, The craving for superiority (Yale University Press, New Haven).

  18. Eckersley, R.: 1998, 'Perspectives on progress: economic growth, quality of life and ecological sustainability', In: R. Eckersley (ed.), Measuring Progress: Is Life Getting Better? pp. 3–34 (CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne).

  19. Eckersley, R.: 2000a, 'The mixed blessings of material progress: diminishing returns in the pursuit of happiness', Journal of Happiness Studies 1, pp. 267–292.

  20. Eckersley, R.: 2000b, 'The state and fate of nations: implications of subjective measures of personal and social quality of life', Social Indicators Research 52, pp. 3–27.

  21. Field, D.: 1981, 'Retrospective reports by healthy intelligent elderly people of personal events of their adult lives', International Journal of Behavioral Development 4, pp. 77–97.

  22. Fischer, C. S.: 1973, 'Urban malaise', Social Forces 52, pp. 221–235.

  23. Flanagan, J. C.: 1978, 'A research approach to improving our quality of life', American Psychologist 33, pp. 138–147.

  24. Fugl-Meyer, A. R., I. R. Branholm and K. S. Fugl-Meyer: 1991, Happiness and domain-specific life satisfaction in adult Northern Swedes', Clinical Rehabilitation 5, pp. 25–33.

  25. Glatzer, W.: 1987, 'Living conditions and their assessment', In: W. Zapf, W. Glatzer, H-H. Noll, R. Habich, R. Berger-Schmitt, S. Breuer, M. Diewald, U. Kerber, H-M. Mohr, and E. Wiegand (eds.), German Social Report: Living conditions and Subjective Well-being (1978-1984) 19, pp. 5–171 (Social Indicators Research).

  26. Gove, W. R., M. Hughes and C. Briggs Style: 1983, 'Does marriage have positive effects on the psychological well-being of the individual?', Journal of Health and Social Behavior 24, pp. 122–131.

  27. Haavio-Mannila, E.: 1971, 'Satisfaction with family, work, leisure and life among men and women', Human Relations 24, pp. 585–601.

  28. Halstead, T.: 1998, 'The science and politics of new measures of progress: a United States perspective', In: R. Eckersley (ed.), Measuring Progress: Is Life Getting Better? pp. 53–68 (CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne).

  29. Hamilton, C.: 1998, 'Measuring changes in economic welfare: the genuine progress indicator for Australia', In: R. Eckersley (ed.), Measuring Progress: Is Life Getting Better? pp. 69–92 (CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne).

  30. Hanestad, B. R. and G. Albrektsen: 1992, 'The stability of quality of life experience in people with Type 1 diabetes over a period of a year', Journal of Advanced Nursing 17, pp. 777–784.

  31. Harris, P. and W. Middleton: 1994, 'The illusion of control and optimism about health: on being less at risk but no more in control than others', British Journal of Social Psychology 33, pp. 369–386.

  32. Headey, B. and A. Wearing: 1988, 'The sense of relative superiority-central to well-being', Social Indicators Research 20, pp. 497–516.

  33. Headey, B. and A. Wearing: 1989, 'Personality, life events, and subjective wellbeing: toward a dynamic equilibrium model', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57, pp. 731–739.

  34. Lai, D.: 2000, 'Temporal analysis of human development indicators: principal components approach', Social Indicators Research 51, pp. 331–366.

  35. Land, K. C.: 2000, In: Edgar F. Borgatta and Rhonda V. Montgomery (eds.), Encyclopaedia of Sociology, Revised Edition (Macmillan, New York).

  36. Mastekaasa, A.: 1992, 'Marriage and psychological well-being: some evidence on selection into marriage', Journal of Marriage and the Family 54, pp. 901–911.

  37. Mastekaasa, A. and T. Moum: 1984, 'The perceived quality of life in Norway: regional variations and contextual effects', Social Indicators Research 14, pp. 385–419.

  38. Moller, V.: 1988, 'Quality of life in retirement: a case study of Zulu return migrants', Social Indicators Research 20, pp. 621–658.

  39. Moller, V.: 1992, 'Spare time use and perceived well-being among black South African youth', Social Indicators Research 26, pp. 309–351.

  40. Myers, D. and E. Diener: 1995, 'Who is happy?', Psychological Science 6, pp. 10–19.

  41. Oppong, J. R., R. G. Ironside and L. W. Kennedy: 1998, 'Perceived quality of life in a centre-periphery framework', Social Indicators Research 20, pp. 605–620.

  42. Redefining Progress: 1995, 'What's wrong with the GDP as a measure of progress?', The Genuine Progress Indicator: Summary of Data and Methodology, pp. 2–9.

  43. Schyns, P.: 1998, National wealth, individual income and life satisfaction in 42 countries: a multilevel approach (Paper, Second Annual Conference of the International Society for Quality of Life Studies, Williamsburg).

  44. Shea, W. R.: 1976, 'Introduction: the quest for a high quality of life', In: W. R. Shea and J. King-Farlow (eds.), Values and the Quality of Life, pp. 1–5 (Science History Publications, New York).

  45. Stolar, G. E., M. I. Macentee and P. Hill: 1992, 'Seniors' assessment of their health and life satisfaction: the case for contextual evaluation', International Journal and Human Development 35, pp. 305–317.

  46. Suh, E. and E. Diener: 1996, 'Events and subjective well-being: only recent events matter', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70, pp. 1091–1102.

  47. Taylor, S. E. and J. D. Brown: 1988, 'Illusion and well-being: a social psychological perspective on mental health', Psychological Bulletin 103, pp. 193–210.

  48. Tesser, A., C. J. Pilkington and W. D. McIntosh: 1989, 'Self-evaluation maintenance and the mediational role of emotion: the perception of friends and strangers', Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57, pp. 442–456.

  49. United States Department of Health Education and Welfare: 1969, Toward a social report (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., U.S.)

  50. Weinstein, N. D.: 1989, 'Optimistic biases about personal risks', Science 246, pp. 1232–1233.

  51. Wilson, J.: 1972, 'The industrial process and the quality of life', In: G. J. Stober and D. Schumacher (eds.), Technology Assessment and Quality of Life, pp. 131–146 (Proceedings of the 4th General Conference of SAINT, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Salzburg, Austria).

  52. Zautra, A.: 1983, 'Social resources and the quality of life', American Journal of Community Psychology 11, pp. 275–290.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Robert A. Cummins.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cummins, R.A., Eckersley, R., Pallant, J. et al. Developing a National Index of Subjective Wellbeing: The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. Social Indicators Research 64, 159–190 (2003).

Download citation

  • national index
  • population
  • satisfaction
  • social indicators
  • subjective wellbeing