How We Measure Well-Being: The Data Behind the History of Well-Being

  • M. Joseph SirgyEmail author
  • Richard J. Estes
  • Audrey N. Selian
Part of the International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life book series (IHQL)


The end of World War II marked a turning point in the history of human consciousness. An era of untold tragedy and human suffering associated with well-being planted the seeds for an awakening not only amongst scholars and policy makers but amongst the general public as well. The awakening was recognition of the need for more scientifically rigorous data pertaining to well-being in the past, the present and, as possible, for the near-term future. For the first time, a more sophisticated range of scientifically rigorous metrics and measures for use in capturing quality of life and well-being began to emerge in response to this need for more effective and efficient public and private policy planning. This chapter outlines the core “metrics” and the “points of departure” for the regional chapters in Part III. This chapter also presents the basic concepts and types of data from which quality-of-life researchers formulate and empirically capture the history of well-being.

Indicators of well-being tend to be linked in a system of inputs and outputs. Outputs traditionally are viewed as data that show outcomes—subjective as well as objective outcomes that represent both need satisfaction and level of experienced personal happiness. Inputs reflect institutional or governmental efforts (i.e., “social investments”) that are required to make particular outcomes possible, e.g., providing more robust systems of health care; developing more effective, cost-efficient approaches to national defense; building communications and transportation infrastructure; developing law enforcement and justice systems that protect the legal rights of citizens while prosecuting offenders with careful attention to the protection of their rights as well; and affording efficient public and private sector spending allocated to bringing greater coherence to these investments. Other scholars have concerned themselves with the development of “equity indicators,” i.e., social indicators that assess the changing needs of the social status of what are referred to by the United Nations as “historically disadvantaged population groups,” e.g., women, children, and youth; the elderly; poor persons; indigenous peoples; members of racial, ethnic, and sexual minority groups; and persons with irreversible disabilities. This chapter also looks at the forces that have shaped and continue to shape our societies through technology and technological innovations.

This method outlines indicator types with the express purpose of providing context to the flow of the volume. As a key point of departure, each regional analysis utilizes the subcomponent indicators of the Human Development Index (HDI). This chapter provides the foundations upon which HDI data and additional types of information are used to paint a picture of the evolution of well-being in its broadest sense. A concerted effort is made to provide a balance between granular, rigorous analyses and the bigger-picture conclusions that emanate from an appreciative approach committed to understanding the bigger picture and the upward wave that carries forward and elevates many of the data points that tell the positive story of human experience on our planet.


Quality of life Well-being Life satisfaction Happiness Subjective indicators Objective indicators Output indicators Input indicators Equity indicators Human development index 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Joseph Sirgy
    • 1
    Email author
  • Richard J. Estes
    • 2
  • Audrey N. Selian
    • 3
  1. 1.Pamplin College of Business, Department of MarketingVirginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia Tech)BlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.School of Social Policy and PracticeUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Halloran PhilanthropiesGenevaSwitzerland

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