The markers of wellbeing: A basis for a theory-neutral approach
Keywords:public policy, measurement, theories of wellbeing, consensus
Programmes for measuring national wellbeing are challenged by the fact that there are a number of competing theories of what wellbeing consists in, and there is no prospect that the debate between them will be resolved.
Although different theories disagree about what constitutes wellbeing, I argue that there is substantial common ground on what I call the 'markers' of wellbeing: things that are either constitutive, productive or indicative of wellbeing. Whatever stands in one of these relations to wellbeing is potentially relevant to its measurement. Something that is constitutive of wellbeing according to one theory will often be productive or indicative of wellbeing according to another and thus, despite their differences, both theories may acknowledge it as a marker of wellbeing.
This paper considers which markers of wellbeing are sufficiently widely shared between different mainstream theories that they could form the basis of a theory-neutral approach to the measurement of wellbeing for the purposes of public policy. The paper defines what would count as a marker of wellbeing in this context; sets out criteria that candidate markers would need to meet; and proposes a list of nine markers that I argue are consistent with a wide range of mainstream theories and with widely-held folk assumptions about wellbeing.
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