The merits of retaining some fraction of the sample for experimental work should be strongly considered, presumably not for 2013 but for subsequent years. One such experiment would be to determine sample sizes needed for subgroup analyses (e.g., day reconstruction method questions, which rely some recall, are systematically answered differently by older and younger populations; in an aging society, it is important to be cognizant of these effects).
The ATUS SWB questions could be the model for a standard set of questions that could be added to other surveys. With effective data linking, this could yield a rich set of findings about the relation to SWB of a wide range of covariates. If such a strategy were adopted, the experience of the ATUS SWB module will provide insights about how questions might perform on health, economic, and other kinds of surveys; and for determining candidate surveys such as the National Health Interview Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, administered by the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Survey of Income and Program Participation, administered by the U.S. Census Bureau for adding modules. As noted above, there are potentially major advantages in having similar questions embedded across multiple surveys, especially as linking of microdata (including administrative) records becomes increasingly feasible.
In light of changing budgets and priorities and emerging alternative data sources (e.g., private label, digital, Web-based), the nation’s statistical agencies have already begun to reexamine the content, modes, and structure of their surveys and data programs more intensively than ever before. New scrutiny of what trends in society are important to measure (such as those recommended by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress; Stiglitz, Sen, and Fitoussi, 2009) may give rise to new opportunities to refocus statistical program coverage (and the surveys on which they are built) and to move into new research areas surrounding SWB. Smaller-scale studies and data collections, such as the ATUS SWB module, are needed to help judge the value and feasibility of embarking on production of national-level SWB statistics, such as those under development in the United Kingdom. Moreover, determination of the place of measures of subjective well-being in monitoring the economy and society cannot be done without the data. The question of whether self-reported measures of well-being should one day be reported alongside more standard economic statistics, such as those for income and employment and for financial markets, is as yet unanswered.
A careful assessment of the data emerging from ATUS and the SWB module may help avoid mistakes if self-reported well-being statistics are ever produced on a larger scale. To the extent that evidence can be accumulated on the research and policy value of such data, a better basis for making these data collection and statistical program decisions can be established. The fact that the United States has a decentralized statistical system makes coordinating of the survey content related to subject well-being a greater challenge than in countries with centralized statistics systems. However, it also affords the option of targeting development in the areas that are identified as the most relevant for policy and measurement—such as health, employment, or education—for which the argument is strongest for adding this kind of content. In light of these arguments, it is the view of the panel that the cost of the proposed 2013 SWB module is quite modest given its potential to inform decisions about potentially much larger statistical system investments.