Living conditions, quality of life, and subjective well-being in regions

Project: Living conditions, quality of life, and subjective well-being in regions: A methodological pilot study with explorative interviewing and quantitative measurement

Submitted by Univ.-Doz. Dr. Ivo Ponocny

and funded by the Anniversary Fund of the Austrian National Bank.

The economy is growing and growing. But is it growing in the right direction, too? Is the quantitative part the dominant goal or is there demand for a strengthened focus on a qualitative part of the overall development? The Easterlin Paradox suggests that material well-being does not automatically lead to increased happiness. Therefore it is very questionable whether it is possible to measure quality-of-life (QoL) just by taking indicators of material well-being into account.

Obviously it is not, as latest research attempts tell us, that more and more effort is taken to fill this vacuum by indicators connected to the subjectively driven part of the story. But this other side of the coin has its handicaps too, as individual self-ratings of happiness are complex constructs influenced by momentary mood, uniqueness of the individual in perceiving life conditions, adaptation processes, and comparison processes based on varying anchor levels. Construct validation studies of subjective well-being (SWB) mainly have to deal with questions like

‘What kind of information can be derived from overall subjective self-ratings?’

This missing link is going to be clarified by cognitive interviewing. First of all, the principle aim is to investigate the respondent’s interpretation of the question itself and afterwards the interpretation of the responses to the questions at hand on the interviewer's side. In the end, responses should be based on improved item material on a lower abstract level that will ease the interpretation of the data collected by SWB questionnaires.

After constructing a methodology mix of qualitative and quantitative research for evaluating regional living conditions, concrete concerns of inhabitants with various location-specific influences will be discovered, i.e. booming regions, areas with structural problems such as emigration of labor force or human capital, or geographic characteristics, as well as municipalities of special interest such as eco-villages, well-being regions, children-friendly communities or similar. One primary goal is to derive recommendations for local or national policy makers to most effectively increase the living conditions of citizens, and to help directing those interventions to address the concrete underlying problems or happiness drivers – such as immaterial patterns and green consumption behavior motivated by sustainability issues – of the local citizens. Finally, the optimization of the national average SWB may hopefully act as a major economic and political intention.

The project is carried out in collaboration with the University of Vienna (Institute for Psychology, Erich Kirchler, Thomas Slunecko) and the Sigmund Freud Privatuniversität (Elisabeth Ponocny-Seliger) and with substantial contributions by Christian Weismayer, Stefan Dressler, Bernadette Stross and Sabine Sedlacek.

Author: Fida