November 2019

IZA DP No. 12810: Better Off? Distributional Comparisons for Ordinal Data about Personal Well-Being

published in: New Zealand Economic Papers, 54 (3), September 2020, 211-238 (Open Access)

How to undertake distributional comparisons when personal well-being is measured using income is well-established. But what if personal well-being is measured using subjective well-being indicators such as life satisfaction or self-assessed health status? Has average well-being increased or well-being inequality decreased? How does the distribution of well-being in New Zealand compare with that in Australia, or between young and old people in New Zealand? This paper addresses questions such as these, stimulated by the increasing weight put on subjective well-being measures by international agencies such as the OECD and national governments including New Zealand's. The paper reviews the methods appropriate for distributional comparisons in the ordinal data context, comparing them with those routinely used for comparisons of income distributions. The methods are illustrated using data from the World Values Survey.