Survey Design and Response Analysis: a Study on Happiness, Life Satisfaction and Well-being in Piedmont, a Region of Italy

In the literature of happiness economics individual subjective utility is measured by directly asking individuals to self-assess their level of utility, usually on a numerical scale, using various terms such as happiness, life satisfaction and well-being, most of the times taking for granted that they are synonymous. Despite the richness of happiness economics literature, several terminological and methodological issues still need to be investigated. This paper presents the results of a field survey conducted in the Region of Piedmont (Northern Italy) by means of 1250 face-to-face interviews, financed by Piedmont Government, in order to assess the level of happiness, life satisfaction and quality of life using three different scales: a verbal one (7 steps from, say, very unhappy to very happy, a unipolar cardinal scale (from 1 to 7) and bipolar cardinal scale (from -3 to 3). We have also examined the effects of wording and scales on those that turned out to be the main determinants of the three notions. We show that wording clearly matters: not only each subject (in most cases) self-reports differently her/his own happiness, life satisfaction and well-being and therefore they may be similar but not equivalent notions, but also their determinants turn out to be different. Moreover, we find that the use of different scales leads to different results. However, a clear pattern does not emerge: therefore we cannot state which numerical scale performs better in representing the verbal self-reported valuations