Life Expectancy as an Objective Factor of a Subjective Well-Being

Papavlassopulos, Nikolas; Keppler, David
December 2011
Social Indicators Research;Dec2011, Vol. 104 Issue 3, p475
Academic Journal
The paper has two parts. In the first part we offer a definition of well-being which makes life expectancy an explicit variable. We recognize the importance of happiness as a significant aspect of any definition of well-being, but we side-step the issue of what determines its level or how to measure it, and concentrate instead on the consequences of our new variable, life expectancy. We argue that life is valued for its quality, and, if positive, its extension is an improvement of well-being. From this we show how, given certain assumptions, disparate problems that have moral and/or social significance can be approached from the perspective of improving well-being. We close the first part by showing that our definition has enough flexibility to be used for that class of decisions which require tradeoffs between quality of life (happiness) and life expectancy. As a corollary we show that attitudes toward risk depend on expectations, and on some occasions, age itself. In the second part we argue, first, that real economic factors, not reducible to mere psychological ones, may still offer an adequate explanation for the fact that absolute income and happiness do not always correlate well. However, we take no position on the many controversies, such as whether it is relative or absolute increases in wealth that bears most directly on changes in happiness. We confirm through statistical analysis (simple regressions) the well established influence that absolute income has on life expectancy, and, hence, by inference and definition, we argue that this must also be the case with well-being. Secondly, we find through statistical analysis that healthcare has as much impact on life expectancy as does absolute income, leading us to theoretically examine the appropriate income cost for access to healthcare if life expectancy is to improve. And thirdly, by assuming a homogeneous function of life expectancy, we theoretically show how a market oriented healthcare system can exacerbate inequities in life expectancy, and so on well-being. Lastly, we consider some policy implications of those inequities.


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