Measuring the Subjective Well-Being of Nations National Accounts of Time Use and Well-Being
edited by Alan B. Krueger
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-45456-6 | Electronic: 978-0-226-45457-3
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.001.0001


Surely everyone wants to know the source of happiness, and indeed, economists and social scientists are increasingly interested in the study and effects of subjective well-being. Putting forward a rigorous method and new data for measuring, comparing, and analyzing the relationship between well-being and the way people spend their time—across countries, demographic groups, and history—this book will help set the agenda of research and policy for decades to come.

It does so by introducing a system of National Time Accounting (NTA), which relies on individuals’ own evaluations of their emotional experiences during various uses of time, a distinct departure from subjective measures such as life satisfaction and objective measures such as the Gross Domestic Product. A distinguished group of contributors here summarize the NTA method, provide illustrative findings about well-being based on NTA, and subject the approach to a rigorous conceptual and methodological critique that advances the field. As subjective well-being is topical in economics, psychology, and other social sciences, this book should have cross-disciplinary appeal.


At the time of publication, Alan B. Krueger was on leave from Princeton University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, serving as Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy and Chief Economist for the U.S. Department of Treasury.


- Alan B. Krueger
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0001
Abstracts and keywords to be supplied (pages 1 - 8)
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- Alan B. Krueger, Daniel Kahneman, David Schkade, Norbert Schwarz, Arthur A. Stone
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0002
[National Time Accounting, NTA, time allocation, U-index, experienced well-being, time-use data, life, multidimensional, subjective-well being]
This chapter describes how National Time Accounting (NTA) can be used to compare groups of individuals, countries, and eras. NTA provides a method for tracking time allocation and assessing whether people are experiencing their daily lives in more or less enjoyable ways. Tracking the U-index over time, either at the episode level or at the activity level provides a means for measuring whether daily life is becoming more or less pleasant, and of understanding why. At the individual level within a country, the demographic correlates of experienced well-being and life (or happiness) satisfaction mostly have the same sign. It is emphasized that subjective-well being is multidimensional, and proposed the U-index as a simple means to reflect the nonlinear relationship among emotions in a NTA framework. Existing time-use data sets provide several opportunities for additional applications of NTA. (pages 9 - 86)
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- George Loewenstein
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0003
[moment happiness, National Time Accounting, NTA, satisfaction, moment feelings, well-being, hedonic feeling, interpersonal comparability]
This chapter focuses on the idea that what makes life worthwhile is not captured by moment to moment happiness, but is absent from National Time Accounting (NTA), namely people's general sense of satisfaction or fulfillment with their lives as a whole, apart from moment to moment feelings. The author here illustrates this point in a number of ways, perhaps by pointing to his father's experience in a French prisoner of war camp during World War II. According to the author, the greatest strength of NTA is that it evaluates well-being in terms of how people actually use their time. The main limitation of NTA is its focus on happiness, which elevates a particular hedonic feeling to an all important role at the expense of a wide range of other things, such as meaning, wisdom, and values. The specific implementation is also problematic because it discards valuable information while not really achieving the interpersonal comparability. (pages 87 - 106)
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- David M. Cutler
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0004
[National Time Accounting, NTA, process of consumption, existential value of consumption, U-index, time-use data]
This chapter evaluates National Time Accounting (NTA) and it is noted that the major issue is the distinction between the process of consumption and the existential value of consumption. According to this chapter, the U-index and evaluated time use more generally, are very good at measuring the utility of the process that goes into consumption. A reference is also made to Bentham's classic felicity calculus, which involved an enumeration of pleasures and pains. It is seen that some activities that are not particularly pleasurable at the time, such as work, are nonetheless engaged in for the benefits that they yield later on, such as the pleasure of using income to consume. Because the time-use data cover a representative snapshot of time, activities that involve investments in future well-being should be captured in the aggregate, although they are hard to attribute to specific activities. (pages 107 - 112)
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- J. Steven Landefeld, Shaunda Villones
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0005
[National Time Accountings, NTAs, National Income and Products Accounts, NIPAs, market activity, well-being indicators, double-entry accounting system, U-index]
This chapter provides a comparison of the National Time Accountings (NTAs) to the U.S. national economic accounts, that is, the National Income and Products Accounts (NIPAs). Like the NIPAs, which are a comprehensive measure of market activity and its components, the NTAs are designed as a comprehensive measure of total utility and its parts. The NTAs avoid the long-standing problem of many well-being indicators that put a subjective value, or weight, on the various indicators used to develop an index of well-being. Although the NTAs are not a double-entry accounting system, they can be imagined as being combined with a set of household production accounts to produce a set of input-output accounts. If the U-index or net affect indexes change slowly, then the NTAs probably do not need to be constructed or released in as timely a manner as the NIPAs. (pages 113 - 124)
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- William Nordhaus
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0006
[emotions, subjective experience, zero point, U-index, interpersonally comparable, subjective reports]
This chapter explains that emotions and subjective experience are not interpersonally comparable. The chapter notes that to be interpersonally comparable a variable must have a uniquely defined zero and a well-defined unit of increment. It is seen that the zero point (and presumably the increment) must be stable across time, people, and countries. The U-index does not require that everyone use the same zero point and same increment. The only requirement is that at a moment in time, whatever zero point and increment people have in mind are applied to their rating of positive and negative emotions. Even if one accepts the view that subjective data are not interpersonally comparable, it is nonetheless the case that subjective reports have predictive power. For example, across-subject differences in self-reported life satisfaction correlate with life expectancy, physiological measures, and job turnover. (pages 125 - 144)
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- Richard Layard
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0007
[well-being, public policy, Day Reconstruction Method, DRM, Princeton Affect and Time Survey, PATS, happiness]
This chapter focuses on the intensive study of the experience of daily living, and this provides an important way of assessing the overall quality of an individual's life and the ways in which well-being data can best contribute to public policy debate. Detailed measurement of affect over the day provides excellent information for monitoring well-being and its distribution in the population. Both the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM) and the Princeton Affect and Time Survey (PATS) can play a great role. The most useful analytical measures for each individual would be scalar averages over the day, especially of happiness. The feeling that well-being is fuzzy is similar to the feeling that once prevailed that depression is fuzzy. Determined and repetitive presentation of results from these scales will eventually result in popular understanding of the scales, just as people now understand Fahrenheit and Celsius. (pages 145 - 154)
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- David G. Blanchflower
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0008
[well-being, life satisfaction, happiness, time-use data, U-index, NTA, subjective well-being]
This chapter compares the results of evaluated time use to those of more conventional well-being measures, including life satisfaction and happiness. It is observed that many of the findings from evaluated time-use data are replicated in more conventional data on subjective well-being. The evaluated time-use data can be used to understand why some groups are happier than others, that is, some differences in well-being between groups can be traced to differences in time use. The comparable historical and cross-country data on life satisfaction and happiness are valuable even if they are less informative than NTA. Considerable attention is given to exploring national differences in subjective well-being with overall life satisfaction and happiness data. The contrast is also observed between the difference in subjective well-being between France and the United States using the U-index and life satisfaction is suggestive that NTA can help overcome biases in conventional happiness measures. (pages 155 - 226)
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- Erik Hurst
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0009
[National Time Accounting, NTA, negative emotions, positive emotions, U-index, economic data, econometric methods]
This chapter discusses an objection to one of the National Time Accounting (NTA) approaches, that is, some people seek out and want to experience negative emotions. For example, people sometimes pay money to watch movies that make them sad, this is a valid point. Over all episodes of the day, positive emotions and negative ones tend to be inversely correlated. The U-index presumes that an experience is unpleasant if a negative emotion is felt more strongly than a positive one, but this may not be the case for all people all the time. Also, people self-select the activities they engage in. Thus, it is not straightforward to infer that an activity that is rated as highly enjoyable by its average participant will be enjoyable to someone who does not partake in that activity. This type of selection problem is common in economic data, and can be addressed with econometric methods. (pages 227 - 242)
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- Alan B. Krueger, Daniel Kahneman, David Schkade, Norbert Schwarz, Arthur A. Stone
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226454573.003.0010
[National Time Accounting, NTA, subjective well-being, U-index, emotional experiences, emotional state, practicality]
This chapter explains several valid points about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed method for National Time Accounting (NTA), particularly regarding the idea of measuring subjective well-being by the fraction of time people spend in an unpleasant emotional state. The assumptions underlying the proposal for NTA seem to strike a reasonable balance between measurement requirements and practicality. The U-index and related indicators can provide a useful indicator of situations that are associated with unpleasant emotional experiences and of groups that are more likely to endure emotionally unpleasant experiences. It is hoped that NTA can provide a means for tracking whether societies are spending their time in more or less enjoyable ways, which can be an input along with others to derive a picture of the progress of society. (pages 243 - 252)
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Author Index

Subject Index