Measuring Welfare beyond GDP : ‘Objective’ and ‘Subjective’ Indicators in Sweden, 1968–2015

  • Christopher Kullenberg Department of Philosophy, Linguistics & Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Gustaf Nelhans Swedish School of Library and Information Science (SSLIS), University of Borås, Sweden


This article analyses a series of negotiations on 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’ of quality of life, rather than relying on what is referred to as ‘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 mid-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 become 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 the creation of such value meters is closely intertwined with how welfare is defined, and by what measures welfare should be carried through.
How to Cite
Kullenberg, Christopher, and Gustaf Nelhans. 2017. “Measuring Welfare Beyond GDP : ‘Objective’ and ‘Subjective’ Indicators in Sweden, 1968–2015”. Valuation Studies 5 (1), 7-38.