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Objective: The use of variably self-reported measures of wellbeing may produce differing outcomes. This study examined the differences in association with health, socioeconomic status, and social conditions (marital status, social capital) of two widely used cognitive subjective wellbeing measurements: Cantril’s ladder and Diener’s five-item Satisfaction with Life Scale.
Methods: A stratified sampling design was used to collect data from representative households in the 20 neighborhoods of Rhini, a deprived suburb of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Correlation and stepwise multiple regression analyses investigated differences in the associations between wellbeing and health, demographics, socioeconomic status, and social conditions determined by the three measurements.
Results: We found that the multiple-item satisfaction with life scale elicited more discriminating responses that took into account a broader range of life domains. This scale reported more significant relationships between subjective wellbeing and health, socioeconomic status, and social conditions. Cantril’s ladder produced a narrower range of career-like comparisons. The direction of association between measures of wellbeing and socioeconomic characteristics never changes according to the measures used.
Conclusions: Policy-makers, researchers, and practitioners using these instruments should be aware of the differences between single- and multiple-item wellbeing measures, and recognize that the choice of instrument will affect the life domains found to be associated with wellbeing.
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