Measuring Welfare Beyond GDP

Objective and Subjective Indicators in Sweden, 1968-2015

Keywords: measurement, happiness, welfare, valuation, social sciences, value meter

Abstract

This article analyses a series of negotiations of how to measure welfare and quality of life in Sweden beyond economic indicators. It departs from a 2015 Government Official Report that advanced a strong recommendation to measure only objective indicators, rather than relying on subjective indicators such as life satisfaction and happiness. The assertion of strictly objective indicators falls back on a sociological perspective developed in the 1970s, which conceived of welfare as being measurable as 'levels of living', a framework that came to be called the 'Scandinavian model' of welfare research. However, in the early 2000s, objective indicators were challenged scientifically by the emerging field of 'happiness studies', which also found political advocates in Sweden who argued that subjective indicators should be an integral part of measuring welfare. This tension between subjective and objective measurements resulted in a controversy between several actors about what should count as a valuable measurement of welfare. As a consequence, we argue that these negotiations can be understood as the creation of valuemeters, devices that both measure and value various aspects of society.

Published
2020-02-17
How to Cite
Kullenberg, Christopher, and Gustaf Nelhans. 2020. “Measuring Welfare Beyond GDP”. Valuation Studies 5 (1), 7-38. https://doi.org/10.3384/VS.2001-5992.17517.
Section
Articles