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Working Paper Number SEHSD-WP1996-23 or SIPP-WP-228
Robert Kominski and Kathleen Short
Component ID: #ti2081827627

Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Statistical Association, August 4-8, 1996,  Chicago, Illinois.

This paper reports the general results of research undertaken by Census Bureau staff. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Census Bureau.

Component ID: #ti1198308965


Among the various activities social scientists engage in, one is an ongoing attempt to systematically measure or assess the state of the population with respect to its quality of life and progress. Over the decades, these assessment efforts have taken a variety of forms. Dating back to the 1920's, researchers attempted to construct scales of measurement that would detail the standard of living in a typical American home (the “Livingroom scale”); later, others would attempt to develop a single indicator of socioeconomic status for characterizing the quality of the background characteristics of an individual. In the 1960's, the focus began to turn to series of different variables, taken as a constellation of measures that depicted the individuals condition. The social indicators movement, as it was called, was the first attempt to systematically assemble a large array of measures, or indicators, covering a wide variety of topical issues, e.g., health, income, safety, community services, and many other factors, which together were assumed to paint a portrait of the overall quality of life.

It was during this time that a number of subjective indicators began to appear in the research and publications tied to this general topic. In the early years of this research, most of the measures used represented some sort of quantitative (or “objective”) count or assessment of a directly observable phenomenon - number of books, wages received, years of education. During the strong social indicators movement of the 1960's, however, a number of social assessment items began to surface. Questions such as these asked respondents to give an evaluation of a situation, for example, how well they believed their goods and services to be, how effective they thought a program was, how happy or satisfied they felt about a given situation. These subjective measures began to take a place in the overall social indicators movement, but because of their sometimes volatile measurement properties, have always been relegated to something of a backseat in many discussions of quality of life assessments.

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