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The financial, economic and social crisis faced by Europe and the world since 2008 rendered more visible a structural deficit in key areas of well-being and quality of life, from education and labour market to health and security. In addition, GDP and other macroeconomic indicators have provided a mandatory yet partial perspective of the behaviour of an important set of key variables influencing people’s daily lives in a more specific and direct manner.

In the past few years, international consensus has arisen to prioritise the closing of the information gap in the assessment of households’ quality of life and satisfaction. Several international organisations such as the UN, OECD, Eurostat, IMF and World Bank, have addressed this challenge with a direct active participation of several statistical offices worldwide. In 2007 the European Commission, along with the European Parliament, the Club of Rome, the WWF and the OECD, organised the Beyond GDP Conference. Policymakers, economic, social, environmental and civil society experts clearly confirmed their support to develop indicators to complement GDP, aimed at providing more information to support policy decision-making.

In 2008, the European Council recognised that the crisis should also be viewed as an opportunity for a strict guidance of the economy towards a low carbon economy with more resource efficiency. The European Council also stressed that response to the crisis should include the design of policies to protect society’s most affected and vulnerable individuals, recommending the production of statistical indicators to integrate social and environmental achievements and losses. Reference should be made to the report of the Commission on the Measurement of the Economic Performance and Social Progress (2009) coordinated by Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi. It is a reference document for developing new statistical indicators to assess well-being and quality of life of individuals and households. In 2010 Eurostat in partnership with INSEE set up a Sponsorship Group on Measuring Progress, well-being and Sustainable Development for implementation of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report’s recommendations, with the participation of the UN, the OECD and several statistical offices from EU and EFTA countries. Three key themes were examined: household perspective and distributional aspects of income, consumption and wealth; multidimensional measures of quality of life, including subjective measures; and environmental sustainability.

There was also a project led by the OECD, the Better Life Initiative (2011), which identified relevant domains and dimensions to characterise and monitor well-being, selecting a list of key indicators for each domain and assessing the level of methodological harmonisation underlying those indicators, for international comparability across OECD countries.

Several statistical offices have been developing initiatives, against this international background, to produce a suite of indicators on well-being and quality of life. Within the European Statistical System, stress is laid on the role played by statistics from surveys to household income and living conditions within the EU-SILC operation. Two important initiatives at a European scale, the European Social Survey and the European Quality of Life Survey, have been providing key indicators on several themes characterising well-being and quality of life, notably in what pertains to subjective information.

Constructing statistical indicators of well-being and quality of life at the national level assumes reusing and integrating knowledge from several official statistics information sub-systems and a progressive reinforcement of the infrastructure of social statistics, in line with the European Statistical System’s multiannual programmes.

An analysis of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report’s recommendations shows that developing well-being and quality of life indicators is not an end in itself, but rather a means and a contribution to establishing public policies focusing on the motivations and metrics of the well-being of individuals and nations and their sustainability. Reflection and debate on well-being and social progress by leading development engaged institutions worldwide have generated a common ground of subjects of analysis characterising such progress.

É neste contexto internacional que vários Institutos de Estatística têm vindo a desenvolver iniciativas para a produção de uma bateria de indicadores sobre o bem-estar e qualidade de vida.

The list of domains considered in the well-being index took into account those international guidelines and the indicators selected took into account the Portuguese socio-economic reality.

The purposes of the WBI are to regularly provide results to monitor the evolution of well-being and social progress in two instrumental aspects – material living conditions of households and quality of life. This index provides breakdowns into ten domains:
  • Material living conditions:
    • Economic Well-being;
    • Economic vulnerability;
    • Labour and Earnings;
  • Quality of life:
    • Health;
    • Work-life balance;
    • Education, Knowledge and Skills;
    • Social interactions and Subjective well-being;
    • Civic participation and Governance;
    • Personal security;
    • Environment.
In each domain, dimensions were identified beforehand which highlighted the problems present in each one and that underpinned the process of selection of variables. The purpose of constructing this new statistical infrastructure is the possibility to add the focus on measuring a person’s well-being to the emphasis on measuring economic production, in a sustainability context.

Composite indicators at the level of every domain and at global level lead to a stronger monitoring mechanism of the main critical factors of Portugal’s economic and social development, from the well-being perspective. These factors are assessed according to specific outcomes, at the level of individuals or households, integrating available statistical data and providing useful information for decision-making.

In addition, such composite indicators will be an instrument to examine public policies and therefore a vehicle for exercising citizenship.