Quality of Life (QoL)


Measuring ‘GDP and beyond’ implies both measuring macroeconomic conditions and monitoring changes in issues affecting the quality of people’s day-to-day life. Quality of life (QoL) is broader than economic output and living standards. It includes the full range of factors influencing what people value in life beyond its material aspects. Factors potentially affecting our quality of life range from job and health status to social relationships, security and governance.

How can QoL be measured?

The 'GDP and beyond' Communication, the SSF Commission recommendations, the Sponsorship Group on 'Measuring Progress, Wellbeing and Sustainable Development' and the  Sofia memorandum all underline the importance of collecting high-quality data about people's quality of life and wellbeing and the central role that EU statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) have to play in this improved measurement. A collection of micro-data on wellbeing, gathered at personal/household level through surveys, is thus a key objective.

The 2011 Sponsorship Group report identified the following 3 priority areas for further work:

  1. Use EU statistics on income and living conditions as the core instrument
  2. Broaden coverage of the relevant dimensions by adding data sources
  3. Deepen & improve analysis.

Building on the recommendations set out in that report, Taskforce 3 (Multidimensional measurement of the quality of life), a set of indicators was developed and organised along 8 + 1 statistically measurable dimensions (see below). These indicators could be ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’.

Objective versus subjective indicators

Indicators are usually considered to be either objective or subjective. Ultimately, objective situations and subjective perceptions combine to determine an individual's wellbeing. There is now an accepted consensus (already expressed in the Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi Report) that both dimensions matter and should be measured by statistical offices within an overall framework. Some indicators, such as income, are clearly objective; others, such as life satisfaction, are subjective. However, measurement methods often blur the boundary. This apparently simple distinction is thus more complex than it appears. Some clarification may thus be useful, to avoid inconclusive debates.

We can distinguish between:

  • the nature of the phenomenon (objective, like air pollution or subjective, like emotions), and
  • how information is collected (from objective sources such as tax registers, or through self-reported questionnaires, such as the assessment of global limitation in activities).

We are therefore considering an analytical framework including these 2 dimensions.

  Reporting method
Objective Subjective
Nature of the phenomenon Objective Urban population exposure to air pollution by particulate matter Self-perceived health
Subjective (No relevant situation within this framework) Life satisfaction

This table illustrates the analytical framework. Several indicators proposed in the framework clearly belong in the top left-hand part of the table (objective situation and objective measure). Income or homicides are examples.

Others clearly belong in the lower left-hand part of the table (subjective phenomenon, subjective reporting). Satisfaction indicators or feelings of safety are examples.

However, many components within this analytical framework focus on objective phenomena like skills or health, but are self-reported. It remains to be seen whether these will be classed as subjective or objective.

What's been achieved so far?

  • Since 2015, a 1st set of QoL indicators, building mainly on existing data in the ESS, have been published in the QoL dedicated section.
  • The Stiglitz/Sen/Fitoussi Commission recommended developing QoL indicators covering multidimensional measures of conditions that contribute to people´s life satisfaction. An Expert Group representing producers, users and other stakeholders was set up in 2012. It started by taking stock of existing data and prioritising data from existing surveys and administrative data within the ESS. It developed the 1st set of indicators on the basis of these data.
  • The Expert Group's final report, endorsed by the European Statistical System in 2016, is on Eurostat's website. It describes the structure of the QoL framework and the definitions of and rationale for its indicators; it also presents the list of headline indicators. It includes recommendations for future developments in social statistics, to fill the data gaps with regard to quality of life identified by the Expert Group and ensure that the framework established is maintained and updated in line with changing requirements.
  • An ad-hoc module on subjective well-being was implemented in the 2013 EU-SILC and the results were published in 2015 (see: Quality of life - Facts and views). In 2010, the Living Conditions Working Group and the Social Protection Committee's Indicators Sub-Group supported Eurostat’s proposal to collect micro-data on wellbeing in EU-SILC's 2013 module. The module's subjective questions (e.g. 'How satisfied are you with your life these days?') complement the mostly objective indicators from existing data collections and social surveys. The subjective indicators feed the QoL dimensions and complement indicators from existing surveys and data collections.
  • In 2016, Eurostat published an analytical report on QoL This sought to explain variations in subjective wellbeing using a range of variables included in Eurostat's Quality of Life framework,  and has recourse to multivariate regression analysis. 

What's next?