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Knowing what is good for you: Empirical analysis of personal preferences and the 'objective good'
Orsolya Lelkes
March 2005
Paper No' CASE 094:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: D63; I31; P36

Tags: quality of life; capabilities; happiness; basic needs; economic transition

This paper aims to test empirically if certain frequently used measures of well-being, which are regarded as valuable properties of human life, are actually desired by people. In other words, it investigates whether the “expert judgments” in social science overlap with social consensus on what the “good life” is. The starting hypothesis is that there is an overlap between these two in the case of basic needs. For the analysis, individuals’ self-reported life satisfaction is used as a proxy for “utility”, based on survey data, which includes about 30 000 individuals from 21 different European countries. The results indicate that the commonly used measures of well-being – labour market situation, health, housing conditions and social relations – significantly influence people’s satisfaction, ceteris paribus. Next, the stability of preferences is tested using Hungarian data from the 1990s. The results indicate that there was only very limited change in the relationship between life satisfaction and basic measures of well-being despite the landslide of societal and economic transformation.

This paper has been published as:
'Knowing what is good for you: Empirical analysis of personal preferences and the 'objective good', Journal of Socio-Economics, Special issue on the Socio-Economics of Happiness, 35 (2): 285-307, 2006