What data to analyze well-being?

What if our well-being was not only linked to economic growth?

For decades

As an economist, in order to analyze the well-being of individuals and the impact of (unexpected) events or policy interventions on it, data has been collected worldwide for decades through time surveys, budget surveys or more recently the income and wealth survey, carried out by the European Central Bank, among others. These allow us to conclude, for example, that income inequality in Belgium has remained relatively stable from 1985 to the present, in contrast to many other Western countries. This is partly explained by the redistributive effect of a number of government measures. Or the fact that in Belgium, families with two parents with a high level of education spend 5 to 6 hours more per week with their children than families with two parents who have not obtained a high school teaching diploma. This is at the expense of their personal time off, which of course raises the question of whether society could play an additional role in the interests of these children’s opportunities.

Surveys obviously have their flaws. They generally study only a portion of the population.

That’s good news, because surveys obviously have their flaws. They generally study only a portion of the population. Think of very rich or very poor people who generally don’t participate in these surveys. Additionally, because the survey would otherwise be too broad, the construct typically only tracks a subset of decisions and what motivates them. Finally, they also generally do not allow tracking of individuals over time; which is crucial for analyzing the impact of, for example, a recent pandemic, an energy crisis or an upcoming election that will hopefully lead to new government deals.

A Scandinavian example

For many years, the Scandinavian countries, and more recently countries like the Netherlands that have followed suit, have shown that access to administrative data can offer a very useful alternative. Based on completely anonymous data and under the control of statistical authorities, researchers can link tax data with data on health, family trends, employment, etc., for the entire population and, if necessary, over time.

Implementing a well-being policy at work is also an economic investment

Although there is a lot of goodwill in Belgium from agencies like Statbel or the National Bank to do the same for our country, there is currently no framework to do this in a simple and standardized way.

Not because it would not be possible to protect the privacy of our compatriots, after all, studies of the assigned policy of our country are good counterexamples, but because there is a lack of a legal framework to eliminate this gap.

This is clearly a missed opportunity to enable economic researchers to better assist various governments in implementing and then analyzing decisions aimed at increasing the well-being of us all.

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