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Well-Being and Public Policy

Well-Being and Public Policy

Using well-being as a measure of societal progress

Professor Andrew Oswald and his co-researchers have been working for two decades to calculate the societal benefits of increased well-being. Governments are now aware of the importance of monitoring people’s well-being in measuring societal progress. Their research has proven that happier workers are more productive, leading to an improved economy. The findings have been used to improve workplace policies (for example, Aberdeen City Council).

The challenge

Prior to Professor Oswald’s research, the primary method for measuring societal progress and economic growth was through Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Professor Oswald argued that new metrics were needed to track well-being and its link to productivity and economic growth, including happiness as a metric. Although many economists were sceptical of Professor Oswald’s approach, it has now been widely accepted that well-being is an important indicator of a country’s progress.

Our approach

Professor Oswald has developed measures of well-being and explored how happiness is determined by personal circumstances and economic factors. His research has demonstrated that:

  • Levels of well being are affected by factors relating to physical health, such as obesity and hypertension, as well as increased fruit and vegetable consumption

  • Happiness fundamentally affects economic outcomes, such as productivity in the workplace

  • People are happier when inflation and unemployment are low

  • Getting married equates to the same amount of happiness, on average, as having an extra £70,000 of income per year

Our impact

The importance of measuring well-being for policy and scientific purposes is now widely accepted. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) now collects data on key well-being indicators, and Professor Oswald has provided advice to the National Infrastructure Commission on how infrastructure, especially transport, affects well-being in the UK. The Green Book – the Civil Service’s guide to all decisions on public spending – now incorporates his research. Aberdeen City Council has introduced practical steps to improve well-being, including training mental health first aiders, running ‘Mental Health Weeks’, and providing yoga and mindfulness sessions.

Policy documents from a wide range of organisations cite Professor Oswald’s findings. These include the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the Department for Work and Pensions, Public Health England, the Scottish Government and the Inter-American Development Bank. Oswald’s research has also informed work on well-being at the European Commission.

Outside of government and policy, Professor Oswald’s research has been disseminated through news outlets in several languages across the world.

Discover more of Professor Oswald's research

Download the World Happiness reports

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