Confusing objective and subjective measures

Ronak Gandhi |Whitehaven Beach, QLD,

Reports this week that Australians are “the happiest people in the world” set off the dodgy data warnings.  (Quite apart from the usual problems of relying on average results)

The newspaper  report was headlined


Smile, we’re the world’s happiest nation

May 23, 2012 – 2:04PM

Australia is the world’s happiest nation, beating Norway and US, based on criteria including income, jobs, housing and health compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

However the OECD study didn’t actually measure happiness, but 11 indicators of wellbeing.

Australia led all rich nations, the Paris-based group’s Better Life Index showed, when each of 11 categories surveyed in 36 nations is given equal weight.

Life expectancy at birth in Australia is almost 82 years, two years higher than the OECD average, the survey showed. More than 72 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 in Australia have a paid job, above the OECD average of 66 per cent.

Australia was the only major developed nation to avoid the 2009 worldwide recession and the government is aiming to return its budget to surplus in the 2012-13 fiscal year.


“Australia performs exceptionally well in measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top countries in a large number of topics in the Better Life Index,” said the OECD, a body representing the world’s developed nations.

However, earlier this week, a different study was reported, which measured sentiment, and found very different conclusions:

Worry has become an addiction

May 23, 2012
The Kohlberg Kravis Roberts co-founder and co-chief executive George Roberts visited Australia in June last year and remarked that Australians seemed terrified of a global crisis they had not actually experienced.

Nothing has changed. Boston Consulting’s annual global sentiment survey revealed last week that people were gloomier than they were a year ago, and on some measures in worse psychological shape than consumers in countries where the global crisis had wreaked havoc.

A more interesting study would try to make sense of these apparently incongruous results – showing the value of mixed methods and triangulation.  (At least The Age put a link from one article to the other)


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