Working Paper
Subjective Measures of Well-being

This paper deals with three questions: (1) What are ‘subjective’ measures? (2) What is ‘well-being’? and (3) Are subjective measures of well-being of use for policymaking, in particular in developing nations? The first question is answered by making a distinction between two kinds of ‘subjectivity’: subjective substance and subjective assessment. On that basis nine types of indicators are discerned, varying in degree of subjectivity. The second question is answered by discerning four kinds of well-being. Examples are presented of indicators for each of these well-being variants. It is argued that there is little sense in combining these variants in one sum-score of overall well-being, since this involves adding apples and oranges. The much-used Human Development Index is rejected on that ground. In answer to the third question a case is made for subjective measures of well-being, in particular for using ‘happy life years’ as an indicator of final policy effectiveness.