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Journal Article

Capabilities and choices: do they make Sen’se for understanding objective and subjective well-being? An empirical test of Sen’s capability framework on German and British Panel Data


Publication date

Feb 2013


In Sen’s Capability Approach (CA) well-being can be defined as the freedomof choice to achieve the things in life which one has reason to value most for his or herpersonal life. Capabilities are in Sen’s vocabulary therefore the real freedoms people haveor the opportunities available to them. In this paper we examine the impact of capabilitiesalongside choices on well-being. There is a lot of theoretical work on Sen’s capabilityframework but still a lack of empirical research in measuring and testing his capabilitymodel especially in a dynamic perspective. The contribution of the paper is first to testSen’s theoretical CA approach empirically using 25 years of German and 18 years ofBritish data. Second, to examine to what extent the capability approach can explain longtermchanges in well-being and third to view the impact on subjective as well as objectivewell-being in two clearly distinct welfare states. Three measures of well-being are constructed:life satisfaction for subjective well-being and relative income and employmentsecurity for objective well-being. We ran random and fixed effects GLS models. Thefindings strongly support Sen’s capabilities framework and provide evidence on the waycapabilities, choices and constraints matter for objective and subjective well-being.Capabilities pertaining to human capital, trust, altruism and risk taking, and choices tofamily, work-leisure, lifestyle and social behaviour show to strongly affect long-termchanges in subjective and objective well-being though in a different way largely dependingon the type of well-being measure used.

Published in

Social Indicators Research

Volume and page numbers

110 , 1159 -1185





Open Access article


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