Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Measuring - and Reporting - Happiness

While I'm doubtful that the government can directly boost people's happiness, and wary of any attempts at its trying to do so, I do welcome recent moves towards policies aimed at improving well-being, rather than economic growth. As I argued in my last post, money is only means to an end, not an end in itself. I'd rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable.

It seems that the Office for National Statistics has recently published figures showing how happy we are. Sadly, even the BBC's coverage leaves a lot to be desired. First, I read this story, which says: "When broken down, Northern Ireland had the lowest life satisfaction rating - 21.9% - compared with 24.3% for England, 25.3% for Wales and 22.6% for Scotland."

It's not clear exactly what those figures mean, but on reading this other story it seems that they are completely misleading, since the latter article says: "People in Wales and England are less satisfied with their lives than people in Scotland and Northern Ireland ... England and Wales had similar proportion of adults giving a low rating for "life satisfaction" - 24.3% and 25.3% respectively. There were fewer people with low life satisfaction in Scotland (22.6%) and Northern Ireland (21.6%)"

In other words, the two articles give directly contradictory information using the same statistics: a fine example of innumerate journalism...

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