Breaking the GDP-cult: the potential of survey data for measuring and reporting individual welfare -PhD thesis-
This research project has been motivated by the question of whether a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can be accepted as an unequivocal measure of welfare. Although the assumed link between the general welfare of a society and its GDP has become one of the most pervasive tenets of our culture, it is now widely recognised that GDP is an imperfect and insufficient proxy. Several modifications have been proposed in response. Those, however, attempt to rectify the shortcomings of GDP while remaining loyal to the flawed conceptual framework of the system of national accounts. Non-economic strands of research, particularly those associated with the so-called social indicators movement, have taken a decidedly different direction. Numerous attempts have already been made to define and directly measure welfare. The project is primarily concerned with this research camp, whose intellectual history is reviewed in some detail. In the process, a generic theory of multidimensional individual welfare is derived and proposed as the theoretically and methodologically soundest alterative. Confronting it with empirical evidence from the British Household Panel Survey (1991-2004) reveals that social reporting on multidimensional concepts entails formidable methodological challenges. In view of that, most of the empirical part of this thesis is dedicated to exploring the feasibility and usefulness of various types of summary measures. The novelty of this research project lies in its systematic exploration of available longitudinal survey data for purposes hitherto largely neglected by the British sociological community and the public statistics establishment. By importing both tested and novel concepts into the context of British survey research for the first time, it provides more accurate and more detailed insights into the distribution and change of individual welfare in contemporary British society than commonly considered.
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