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Scale norming undermines the use of life satisfaction scale data for welfare analysis


Fabian, M, Scale norming undermines the use of life satisfaction scale data for welfare analysis, Journal of Happiness Studies, 23, (4) pp. 1509-1541. ISSN 1389-4978 (2022) [Refereed Article]

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© The Author(s) 2021. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, ( which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made.

DOI: doi:10.1007/s10902-021-00460-8


Scale norming is where respondents use qualitatively different scales to answer the same question across survey waves. It makes responses challenging to compare intertemporally or interpersonally. This paper develops a formal model of the cognitive process that could give rise to scale norming in year on year responses to life satisfaction scale questions. It then uses this model to conceptually differentiate scale norming from adaptation and changes in reference points. Scale norming could make life satisfaction responses misleading with regards to the changing welfare of individuals. In particular, individuals who would say that their life is "improving" or "going well" might nonetheless give the same scale response year after year. This has negative implications for the use of scales in cost–benefit analysis and other welfarist applications. While there is already substantial empirical evidence for the existence of scale norming, its implications for welfare analysis are sometimes understated on the grounds that this evidence might simply be the product of errors of memory. The paper presents new empirical evidence for scale norming from two surveys (N1 = 278; N2 = 1050) designed such that errors of memory are an unconvincing explanation for the results.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:subjective well-being, welfare analysis, life satisfaction, adaptation, scale norming, response shiftlife satisfaction, measurement, econometrics
Research Division:Psychology
Research Group:Social and personality psychology
Research Field:Social psychology
Objective Division:Economic Framework
Objective Group:Measurement standards and calibration services
Objective Field:Measurement standards and calibration services not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Fabian, M (Dr Mark Fabian)
ID Code:148576
Year Published:2022 (online first 2021)
Web of Science® Times Cited:3
Deposited By:CALE Research Institute
Deposited On:2022-01-25
Last Modified:2022-10-25
Downloads:4 View Download Statistics

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