WHY SOCIAL POLICY NEEDS SUBJECTIVE
Ruut Veenhoven, Erasmus University Rotterdam and University of Utrecht,
Published in: Social Indicators Research, 2002, vol 58, pp 33-45, ISSN
Also published in: Hagerty M.R., Vogel, J., & Moller, V. (eds) ‘Assessing
quality of life and living conditions to guide national policy. The state of
the art’, Social Indicators Research
Series vol 11, pp. 33-45, Kluwer Academic, 2002 Dordrecht, The Netherlnds, ISBN
There are many qualms about subjective indicators, and some believe that social
policy would be better for not using them. This paper consists of a review of
these objections. It is argued that policy makers need subjective indicators,
the main reasons being:
- Social policy is never
limited to merely material matters; it is also aimed at matters of mentality.
These substantially subjective goals require subjective indicators.
- Progress in material
goals can not always be measured objectively. Subjective measurement is often
- Inclusive measurement is
problematic with objective substance. Current sum-scores make little sense.
Using subjective satisfaction better indicates comprehensive quality.
- Objective indicators do
little to inform policy makers about public preferences. Since the political
process also does not reflect public preferences too well, policy makers need
additional information from opinion polls.
- Policy makers must
distinguish between 'wants' and 'needs'. Needs are not observable as such, but
their gratification materialises in the length and happiness of peoples' lives.
This final output criterion requires assessment of subjective appreciation of