Page 251

they are, what they want, and what they can do—have the mark of the past about them. Lag in all these respects means that we have yet to achieve the quality of life made possible by the added years of life achieved.

Most people would agree that gains in life expectancy and material goods and services, important as they are, are not all we mean when we use terms such as well-being and quality of life. The idea of a more comprehensive set of measures—a complete and continuing index of national well-being—is not new. In the United States in 1929, then President Herbert Hoover created the President's Committee on Social Trends for the purpose of generating the necessary data and thus providing an improved basis for policy decisions. In the nature of such things, the committee's report, Recent Social Trends, appeared much later, in the midst of a great depression and the early years of the Roosevelt presidency. Forty years later, Wilbur Cohen, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, submitted to President Lyndon Johnson an ambitious document with a modest title: Toward a Social Report (Cohen, 1969). This report provided some data and urged the collection of much more in seven main areas: health and illness, social mobility, physical environment, income and property, public order and safety, learning and science and art, and participation and alienation.

As these topics suggest, the 1969 report included some direct measures of well-being—health and illness, for example—and a number of economic and behavioral factors assumed to cause or enable well-being. Throughout the following decade, interest in the measurement of well-being ran high in many countries as part of a larger effort at creating “social indicators.” The social indicators movement, as it was called, appears in retrospect to have been part of a larger international concern with well-being and the role of governments in its achievement. It was a time when such phrases as “welfare state” and “great society” were terms of aspiration rather than derision. In more recent years, interest in such measures has continued in the United States (e.g., as seen in the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States), but with less visibility and with markedly less support from the major funding agencies.

Efforts at measuring quality of life continue in many other countries as well. For example, the multidisciplinary Berlin Aging Study looks at sources of well-being in very old age (see Baltes and Mayer, 1999, for an extended discussion). Some coordination and exchange of information is being accomplished through the MAPI Research Institute in Lyon, France, which publishes the Quality of Life Newsletter. Coordination and international exchange is also provided by the International Society for Quality of Life Research (ISOQOL). During the year 2000, the first National Quality of Life Symposium was held in China, and the Seventh Annual Sym



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement