“I Want to Be Well” by Michael Escanuelas

Title: Quality of Life Indexes for National Policy: Review and Agenda for Research

Author(s): Michael R. Hagerty, Robert A. Cummins, Abbott L. Ferriss, Kenneth Land, Alex C. Michalos, Mark Peterson, Andrew Sharpe, Joseph Sirgy, and Joachim Vogel

Publisher: Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique

Year: 2001

URL: http://bms.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/075910630107100104

Topics: quality of life, indexes

Methods: Review of indexes measuring quality of life

What it says: In this article 22 indexes which measure Quality of Life (QOL) are assessed to determine their usefulness for public policy purposes. The indexes were reviewed by members of the Committee for Societal QOL Indexes, using a standard set of 14 criteria developed for the project. Some of those criteria pertain to the index as whole, including that it should have a clear policy purpose, be grounded in well-established theory, and be reported as a single number but also able to be broken down into parts. Other criteria relate to the types of measures the indexes rely on, specifying that those measures should be valid, reliable, and sensitive, measurable at multiple geographic levels, and based on time series data to allow for monitoring over time. Finally, multiple criteria concern the indexes’ domains, a term for the constituent parts of Quality of Life that an index includes such as Health or Security. According to the criteria these domains should be measurable in both subjective and objective dimensions, potentially neutral, positive, or negative in their contribution to QOL, and, taken as a whole, encompass the totality of life experience. For generic indexes used with multiple populations and contexts, each domain must have relevance for most people in a variety of different contexts and populations.

In addition to including brief reviews of all 22 indexes, the article makes several general observations and recommendations. First the authors suggest standardization in the domains included in QOL indexes and the terminology used to refer to them. They then provide a list of seven domains that represent the conception of QOL shared by most of the indexes, which includes: relationships with family and friends, emotional wellbeing, material wellbeing, health, work and productive activity, feeling a part of one’s local community, and personal safety. If an index is being developed for a specific population, the authors do leave room for the inclusion of supplementary domains which are of specific importance to the group being measured. They use the example of leisure, which may be of specific concern in developed nations, but does not qualify as a universally accepted domain, in their view.

The authors also recommend that indexes place greater emphasis on distinguishing policy inputs and outputs (as well as a third category, “throughputs” which measure individual responses to environmental factors), noting that this will create greater opportunity to use these indexes to test public policy measures. Finally, the authors discuss various methods of determining the weights that should be given to the measures used in an index and recommend two specific methods: two-stage factor analysis and conjoint analysis.

What I think about it: For those new to or even partially versed in methods of measuring quality of life or wellbeing, this article provides a useful glimpse into the large body of academic work and thought in this area. The sheer number of indexes available in this realm speaks to the impetus behind this work, as well as its value. The authors use the well-established method of peer review for their assessments, and their established criteria are seem logically sound to a layperson, though very exacting in their expectations.

What it all means: While the article probably shouldn’t be considered a foolproof recipe for a good quality of life index (an early footnote is careful to disclaim that the views expressed do not represent the opinions of all members of the committee it was published by, pointing to some potential internal disagreement with the recommendations) it is a good starting point for anyone looking to deepen their understanding of how academics approach the process of measuring quality of life.

For the arts sector, the notable absence of “culture” or equivalent within the authors’ list of standard domains is of interest, as is the example given of leisure as a domain that may be a priority unique to developed nations, and therefore only appropriate for indexes specific to those populations, as culture and leisure are sometime considered together. The Canadian Index of Wellbeing, for example, includes a domain called “Leisure and Culture” which draws upon measures of cultural participation rates, as well as other types of leisure.

Given the authors’ criteria, and assuming the difficulty of arriving at a universal human conception of how culture should fit into our lives, the emergence of “culture” as a standard domain in quality of life or wellbeing studies may not be inevitable. This might mean that exploring how the arts contribute to other domains of quality of life may be equally as important as developing locally relevant conceptions of and ways to measure cultural vitality.