Working Paper
Descriptions of Inequality

the Swedish Approach to Welfare Research

Already in the 1950s it became clear that, in spite of its widespread use, the per capita gross national product is an insufficient measure of the well-being of citizens. Thus, in 1954, an expert group within the United Nations suggested that one should not rely on monetary measures only - the measurement of well-being should be based upon several different components - together making up the level of living. Partly influenced by the UN expert group, Johansson made level of living, seen as a set of components, the basic concept in the first Swedish level of living survey conducted in 1968. This survey has later been followed by a number of similar studies, both in Sweden and in the other Nordic countries. To exemplify the Swedish approach to welfare research, I will here use the first survey from 1968 and its direct followers, conducted by the Swedish institute for social research in 1974 and 1981. However, apart from minor details, what I say also applies to what has been done by the Swedish central statistical office as well as by other Scandinavian research organizations.
Measurement and description of welfare implies the response to a series of questions. One concerns the basis of welfare measurement - should it be related to the needs or the resources of individuals. Another question is whether she herself or an outside observer should judge the individual's welfare. Furthermore, we must decide which type of indicators to use and how to use them - how should relevant descriptions be made and how could we give an overall picture of the individual's welfare. I will further on return to these questions and discuss how they have been answered in the Swedish level of living surveys. Before doing so I will present some results from these surveys in the hope to make the issues more clear and concrete.