An ad hoc panel will review the current state of research and evaluate methods for the measurement of subjective well-being (SWB) in population surveys. On the basis of this evaluation, the panel will offer guidance about adopting SWB measures in official government surveys to inform social and economic policies. The study will be carried out in two phases. The first phase, which is the subject of this statement of task, is to consider whether research has advanced to a point that warrants the federal government collecting data that allow aspects of the population’s SWB to be tracked and associated with changing conditions. The study will focus on experienced well-being (e.g., reports of momentary positive and rewarding, or negative and distressing, states) and time-based approaches (some of the most promising of which are oriented toward monitoring misery and pain as opposed to “happiness”), though their connection with life-evaluative measures will also be considered. Although primarily focused on SWB measures for inclusion in U.S. government surveys, the panel will also consider inclusion of SWB measures in surveys in the United Kingdom and European Union, in order to facilitate cross-national comparisons in addition to comparisons over time and for population groups within the United States. The panel will prepare a short interim report on the usefulness of the American Time Use Survey SWB module, and a final report identifying potential indicators and offering recommendations for their measurement. A later, separate second phase will seek to develop a framework modeled on the National Income and Product Accounts to integrate time-based inputs and outputs, and SWB measures, into selected satellite, or experimental, subaccounts.
The ATUS is the first federally administered, continuous survey on time use in the United States (and in the world). It is designed to obtain estimates of the time spent by respondents in childcare, at work, traveling, sleeping, volunteering, engaged in leisure pursuits, and a wide range of other activities. Time-use data augment income and wage data for individuals and families that analysts can use to create a more complete picture of quality of life in a society. Along with income and product data, information about time-use patterns is essential for research that evaluates the contribution of nonmarket work to national economies. The data also enable comparisons between nations that have different mixes of market and nonmarket production modes. To illustrate, the households of two countries may enjoy similar home services and amenities—quality of meals, level of home cleaning and maintenance, elder and child care, etc.—but one may perform more of these tasks themselves (home production) while the other may more typically hire the tasks out in the market. The latter economy will register higher per capita gross domestic product even though the standard of living may be comparable in the two countries. Relatedly, countries may vary in the amount of time that individuals must work to achieve a given material standard of living, resulting in different amounts of leisure. This difference would also not show up directly in market (only) measures of economic activity, yet it is likely that it affects well-being.
The ATUS provides nationally representative estimates of how people spend their time. It has been conducted continuously since 2003. The survey sample is a repeated cross-section of individuals who are drawn from U.S. households completing their eighth and final month of interviews for the Current Population Survey (CPS). One individual from each household is