Measuring subjective well-being in later life

Contact: Bram Vanhoutte 

The fairly recent policy interest in measuring subjective well-being is based on a longer tradition of academic research into quality of life (Nussbaum & Sen, 1993) and positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), aimed at extending the focus of research in the behavioural sciences from problematic behaviour to positive qualities, from repairing and healing to enhancing the ability of individuals to maintain a good life (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). In the framework of the ageing of the population, it can be said that measuring subjective well-being and enhancing a good later life are even more important.

An important division in measuring instruments is made on the basis of different philosophical backgrounds of what well-being actually entails (Ryan & Deci, 2001). Is subjective well-being mainly about being happy, or are there other things than pleasure and pain, such as self-actualisation, that influence one’s level of contentment? Using confirmatory factor analysis, the adequacy of commonly used scales to measure subjective well-being, their interrelations and their cross-cultural validity is tested. This is a relevant area of research, as very often measurements are used without testing their properties, which can results in significant bias. Are measures fit to assess subjective well-being in later life? To what extent are different measures examining different aspects of well-being? Can measures be used to compare well-being across different countries? These kind of questions are the ones being tackled in this research topic.


Nussbaum, M., & Sen, A. (1993). The Quality of Life. (M. C. Nussbaum & A. K. Sen, Eds.)Development (Vol. 1, p. xi, 453). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/0198287976.001.0001.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American psychologist, 55(1), 5.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 141–166.

Current research outputs from this strand

Vanhoutte, B., Nazroo, J., & Chandola, T. (2012) Measuring well-being in later life, SHARE users conference, 28-29 July 2012, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, Italy.

Vanhoutte, B. (2012) Measuring well-being in later life: A review. CCSR Working paper 2012-06. Manchester, UK: CCSR, University of Manchester.