Life satisfaction data: Is the evidence sufficiently clear for policy applications?

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics

Event details

PhD Seminar (Econ)

Date & time

Friday 21 September 2018


Seminar Room 2, Crawford Building, Lennox Crossing, ANU


Mark Fabian

This seminar will review three different interpretations of patterns in life satisfaction data: adaptation, scale-norming, and preference drift. The adaptation interpretation dominates the literature, perhaps only because researchers take the data at face value. I collate existing theoretical arguments and empirical evidence that suggest this approach is potentially misleading because scale-norming is more prevalent than presently believed. This motivates the investigation of life satisfaction using a simple but novel metric that can disentangle adaptation and scale-norming. I then present results gathered using this instrument. In contrast to studies using longitudinal surveys, I find some evidence for scale-norming and little evidence for adaptation. Furthermore, I find sustained trends in life satisfaction, mostly upwards. This result again differs from those typically found in longitudinal studies where life satisfaction is mostly static over time. Taken together, these results suggest a need for further research into scale-norming and alternative life satisfaction metrics.

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