Happy now? Lessons for economic policy makers from a focus on subjective well-being

Published on Incomes and Inequality

How happy are people in the United Kingdom? How satisfied are they with their lives? These questions and others are central to the well-being agenda that has been growing in prominence in economic and wider policy circles since the turn of the century.

This paper, the first time the Resolution Foundation has published detailed analysis of subjective well-being, takes a wide-ranging look at what well-being data has to offer by way of lessons for economic policymakers concerned with raising the nation’s living standards.

  • Well-being data shows that there’s more to life than economics, but that it still really matters.
  • Higher-income households report higher subjective well-being, but with diminishing returns.
  • A job increases well-being, but the well-being drop from losing a job is bigger than the well-being gain from getting into work.
  • Home and place matters: housing tenure is strongly associated with higher well-being, and the regional variation in well-being is significant.
  • Well-being data has a lot to tell policymakers, but also leaves a big puzzle unanswered by advocates for its use for public policy as to why average well-being appears to have been increasing over the past two decades.
  • Well-being data is a valuable additional measure of living standards, that complements but does not supersede economic measures.