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

Project motivation and description

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.

MODUL University has launched an online questionnaire. The aim is to improve the assessment of how life is in our society and whether or to what extent people gain happiness and satisfaction. The questionnaire takes about 10 minutes contains questions about living conditions, quality of life and subjective well-being. It is about the quality of the local environment, about daily hassles and sorrows, and about many circumstances which may influence our daily mood. Material facts are considered as well as emotions, needs, experiences or basic attitudes towards life. Current international developments in official statistics (such as the “GDP and beyond movement” or the “Stiglitz report”) are the background of this study; the purpose is to provide better tools for assessing the well-being of people and in which way it could be improved. The questionnaire results derived from 1,460 respondents (914 paper-pencil, 546 online) are supported by 500 face-to-face interviews, more than 341 diaries and 20 group discussions at 10 different locations in Austria.