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Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being: Evidence from the U.S.A.

Science  29 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5965, pp. 576-579
DOI: 10.1126/science.1180606

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Abstract

A huge research literature, across the behavioral and social sciences, uses information on individuals’ subjective well-being. These are responses to questions—asked by survey interviewers or medical personnel—such as, “How happy do you feel on a scale from 1 to 4?” Yet there is little scientific evidence that such data are meaningful. This study examines a 2005–2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System random sample of 1.3 million U.S. citizens. Life satisfaction in each U.S. state is measured. Across America, people’s answers trace out the same pattern of quality of life as previously estimated, from solely nonsubjective data, in one branch of economics (so-called “compensating differentials” neoclassical theory, originally from Adam Smith). There is a state-by-state match (r = 0.6, P < 0.001) between subjective and objective well-being. This result has some potential to help to unify disciplines.

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