Tag Archives: life satisfaction

Happiness isn’t quality of life if you’re old

The subject of happiness, particularly among older people, has come up (again) in the media. I reckon they trot out the latest survey results whenever there’s a slow news day. I think it’s no coincidence the newest stories have appeared in the slow month of August.

Anyway I shall keep this short as I’ll rant otherwise. Once again, neither happiness nor life satisfaction is the same as quality of life and we can argue til the cows come home as to which of the three (if any) is truly well-being.

First of all, if I can find the time to write up a follow-up to the paper I published on the mid 2000s survey of Bristolians I will show this:

Five year age bands showing mean levels (after rescaling) of self-rated happiness versus scored quality of life in Bristol

Five year age bands showing mean levels (after rescaling) of self-rated happiness versus scored quality of life in Bristol

The two track reasonably closely until retirement age. Then whilst happiness continues to rise, quality of life certainly does not. The wealth of other evidence on health, money, friends, etc from the survey suggests our QoL, the ICECAP-O instrument, is the better measure of overall well-being.

We are not the only ones to find this. A large US study pretty much concluded they didn’t know WTF older people were doing when they answered life satisfaction/happiness questions but they sure don’t answer them the same way that younger adults do. Older people use a different part of the numerical scale (typically a higher portion, all other things being equal). That’s rating scale bias and there is a huge and growing literature on it.

Stop asking these dumb questions. There are good alternatives.

 

 

Happiness economics decimated

Great paper by one of the top Capabilities Approach researchers, Martha Nussbaum – it decimates the fad for happiness economics that infests public policy, particularly in the UK.

Of course, the ICECAP instruments are based on the Capabilities Approach and I have shown empirically (when I get round to publishing it) that ICECAP-O differs from a happiness/life satisfaction score measure in exactly the way Nussbaum predicts.