A Birdseye View of Well-being: Exploring a Multidimensional Measure for the United Kingdom

OPHI Research in Progress

This paper explores a new approach to capturing well-being and human development in a single, joint multidimensional index that is at once intuitive, rigorous and policy salient. Based on Amartya Sen’s capability approach and the Alkire-Foster method as adapted in Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index, the paper presents a new exploratory Multidimensional Well-being Index (MWI) for the United Kingdom. The aim of the paper is twofold: inform the debate on the measurement of well-being, and of human development more generally, and illustrate the added value of a single rigorous metric in the form of an index, as a complementary headline measure to GDP. The MWI presented here follows a subset of the domains and indicators from the official national well-being dashboard for the UK and is constructed from a single wave of Understanding Society (Wave 9) data. Findings are presented at the national level and decomposed by population subgroups and regions to reveal inequalities in well-being across the population. The indicators are data constrained so we recommend the results be interpreted as illustrating a methodology that could be insightful for policy if appropriate indicators were agreed by due process. Results show that 44% the population enjoys satisfactory levels of well-being, but this varies greatly. For instance, across ethnic groups, 53% of white people enjoy favourable well-being, but only 35% of other ethnic groups, and only 27% of people who self-identify as Black African/Caribbean or Black British. Many people report lacking a balanced diet and minimum physical exercise, as well as feeling unhappy, anxious and not feeling satisfied with income or leisure time, that highlights the need for policy focus on these areas if well-being is to be raised and maintained for all.

Citation: Alkire, S. and Kovesdi, F. (2020). ‘A birdseye view of well-being: Exploring a multidimensional measure for the United Kingdom’, OPHI Research in Progress 60a, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford.

human development, well-being, wellbeing, well-being measurement, capability approach, Alkire-Foster, United Kingdom, disaggregation, Understanding Society, subjective wellbeing, life satisfaction, GNH, Bhutan, multidimensional well-being index
Europe and Central Asia
United Kingdom


Sabina Alkire and Fanni Kovesdi

Series Name
OPHI Research in Progress
Publication date
JEL Codes
C43, D60, D63, I30, I31, I38, O15
Publication Number
RP 60a