Dimensions of Well-being and the Millennium Development Goals

Rashida Haq, Uzma Zia

Abstract


The concept of well-being has deep roots in philosophy
[Cantril (1965)]. Much later in the 19th century modern definitions of
well-being emerged. The utilitarian movement defined well-being
subjectively and proclaimed individuals’ well-being as an important goal
of individuals’ behaviour and public policy. During the 20th century
social scientists started to examine well-being empirically, but a
unified concept of wellbeing was lacking. At the beginning of the 20th
century, economists developed elaborate quantitative theories of
well-being, but rejected the possibility that individuals’ could provide
valid reports of their own well-being. In the second half of the 20th
century social scientists started to develop subjective measures of
well-being, and started to examine how these measures relate to
demographic variables or other characteristics of individuals [Andrews
and Withey (1976)]. The relationship between GDP and well-being likely
depends on how rich a country is. As income increases it contributes
little to overall well-being at low levels of GDP in poor country, since
only a narrow segment of the population is benefiting directly.
Moreover, as noted by Sen (2001) non-monetary benefits such as health
and education that improve individual capabilities are often more
important than income in poor countries. As the benefits of continued
growth trickle down to a burgeoning middle class, social well-being
rises dramatically [Torras (2008)]. It is in this context that a number
of alternatives to GDP have been introduced. For example, the United
Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) human development index (HDI)
uses GDP per capita to measure “access to economic resources” in
well-being assessments but accords it only one-third weight in
determination of the level of human development. Although national
income accounting measures may sometimes not agree with popular
perceptions of trends in economic well-being, GDP per capita is one of
the three main components of the HDI, whose objective is to indicate the
capability of people “to lead a long and healthy life, to acquire
knowledge and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard
of living” [Osberg and Andrew (2005)].

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.30541/v47i4IIpp.851-876

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