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The Quality of Life$

Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen

Print publication date: 1993

Print ISBN-13: 9780198287971

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198287976.001.0001

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Having, Loving, Being: An Alternative to the Swedish Model of Welfare Research

Having, Loving, Being: An Alternative to the Swedish Model of Welfare Research

(p.88) Having, Loving, Being: An Alternative to the Swedish Model of Welfare Research
The Quality of Life

Erik Allardt

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Allardt describes the basic principles underlying the indicator system originated in the Comparative Scandinavian Welfare Study of 1972; contrasts them with those conceived in the Swedish Level of Living Survey of 1968; and argues that the comparative model not only offers a more comprehensive set of indicators but also permits the introduction of new indicators and measures when society changes. By focusing on the level of need satisfaction instead of resources, and by taking into account objective and subjective indicators, Allardt concludes that the comparative model is more able to convey a sociologically meaningful picture of the states of well‐being in a society.

Keywords:   comparative survey, indicators, measurement, open system, Scandinavia

Nationwide surveys of the level of living and quality of life were conducted in all the Scandinavian countries in the 1970s. They were assumed to cover basic elements of human well‐being in advanced, industrialized societies. It is to be noted that the word ‘welfare’ (in Swedish välfärd, in Danish velfaerd, in Norwegian velferd, and in Finnish hyvinvointi), in all the Scandinavian languages, also stands for well‐being, and that it relates to both level of living and quality of life. The surveys were said to represent welfare research. They were based on interviews of national samples of the citizenry. As is the case with regard to institutionalization of the Scandinavian welfare state, Sweden also spearheaded the surveying of the level of welfare. The first nationwide national welfare study in the Scandinavian tradition was the Swedish Level of Living Survey conducted in 1968 (Johansson, 1970).

The second large‐scale Scandinavian welfare study was a comparative one, conducted in 1972 by the Research Group for Comparative Sociology at the University of Helsinki, and supported by research councils in the Scandinavian countries. It was based on interviews of national probability samples of approximately 1,000 persons in each of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden (Allardt, 1975; Allardt, 1976: 227–40). The national samples in the comparative study were smaller than in the national studies focusing on one country only. The comparative approach contained many problems of measurement, and its measures did not, as a rule, have the same high degree of reliability as the Swedish Level of Living Survey. In retrospect the importance of the Comparative Scandinavian Welfare Study was that it offered a more comprehensive system of indicators for describing the level of living and the quality of life than the Swedish model. It is also a more open system, allowing for the introduction of new indicators and measures when society changes. On the other hand, the comparative study was clearly inspired by the Swedish Level of Living Survey. It was, however, felt that the Swedish model was too restrictive and narrowly conceived to convey a sociologically meaningful picture of the state of well‐being in a society. In this paper the basic principles underlying the indicator system originated in the Comparative Scandinavian Welfare Study are briefly described. This is done by showing how it departs from the Swedish model, particularly as regards two basic assumptions and theoretical choices.

1 Focus on the Level of Need Satisfaction Rather Than on Resources

A strong assumption of the Swedish approach was that level of living surveys should mainly be concerned with gauging the resources by means of which (p.89) individuals can master and control their lives. The level of living was in fact defined as ‘the individual's command over resources in the form of money, possessions, knowledge, mental and physical energy, social relations, security, and so on, through which the individual controls and consciously directs his living conditions’ (Erikson's paper in this volume). In planning for the comparative study, too, it was agreed that the resource aspect was an important one. Yet, it was felt that an emphasis on resources would be too restrictive and in practice lead to a one‐sided focus on material conditions. In order to consider a fuller and richer range of conditions for human development, another approach would be needed. In the comparative study the indicator system was based on a basic needs approach developed by the Norwegian Johan Galtung (1980: 50–125).

The basic needs approach is both more complicated and more ambiguous than the resource approach. It allows, however, for a fuller consideration of the necessary conditions for human development. A basic needs approach focuses on conditions without which human beings are unable to survive, avoid misery, relate to other people, and avoid alienation. Having, Loving, and Being are catchwords for central necessary conditions of human development and existence. It is clearly assumed that there are both material and non‐material basic human needs, and that both types of need have to be considered in indicator systems designed to gauge the actual level of welfare in a society.

Having refers to those material conditions which are necessary for survival and for avoidance of misery. It covers the needs for nutrition, air, water, for protection against climate, environment, diseases, etc. The material conditions may in the Scandinavian countries be measured by indicators denoting

  1. economic resources: income and wealth;

  2. housing conditions: measured both by space available and housing amenities;

  3. employment: usually described in terms of the occurrence or absence of unemployment;

  4. working conditions: noise and temperature at workplace, physical work routine, measures of stress;

  5. health: various symptoms (or their absence) of pain and illness, availability of medical aid, and

  6. education: years of formal education.

Indicators of this kind were used both in the Swedish Level of Living Survey and in the Comparative Scandinavian Welfare Study. It is to be noted that the indicators are designed to describe social conditions in the Scandinavian countries. In the Third World the indicators would be quite different and measure, for instance, sheer availability of food, water, and shelter.

The data gathered about the components listed can be used for constructing measures of different kinds. We are all familiar with the common technique of comparing countries by dividing the measures by the number of inhabitants. Thus we have GNP per capita, school enrolment per capita, the average number of household members per room, etc. Such aggregate measures and averages (p.90) are often useful but they are clearly unsatisfactory in describing the national level of human welfare. They tell us, for instance, nothing about distribution and internal disparities. More important than dispersion measures, however, is the notion of a floor, a bottom level, below which no individual should be located (Galtung, 1975: 148). The average may, comparatively speaking, be impressively high, but if a large percentage of the population nevertheless remains below the floor, then the national level of human welfare can hardly be described as satisfactory.

The notion of a floor below which the values should not be permitted to fall is indeed a very natural idea when adding measures relating to the quality of the biological and physical environment to the list of indicators describing the material environment. The measures of the biological and physical environment designed to describe the level of human welfare in a society would in the first place have to reflect the degree and nature of polluting compounds in the air, the water, and the ground. Examples of conditions important to measure are:

  1. the degree of deposition of sulphur in the air;

  2. soil acidification (ph‐values);

  3. lake acidification (pH‐values);

  4. groundwater acidification (ph‐values);

  5. nitrous acid concentration in the air;

  6. nitrous acid concentration in the sea and in the lakes;

  7. excess of algal production in the sea and in the lakes;

  8. heavy metal (lead) deposits in the soil and in the water;

  9. concentration of radon in the soil and in the water;

  10. sulphur content in pure needles of pine or spruce;

  11. concentration of mercury in fish (e.g. Alcomo et al., 1987, 232–45).

Such measures are intended to describe predicaments in the biological and physical environments of individual citizens. It is to be noted that the research design for welfare survival imposes some restrictions on what environmental conditions can be included. The intention is to explain variations in human welfare among individual citizens, and the measures have therefore to reflect variations in the environment of individuals. Measures reflecting predicaments common to all humankind and to all citizens of a country would be of little use in this type of welfare survey.

Unfortunately a great deal of social science welfare research has continued in its traditional path without considering measures of the quality of the biological and physical environment. In a recent otherwise very well‐edited and well‐written book about the Scandinavian welfare model, welfare research is defined as ‘research which in a systematic and explicit fashion conceptualizes good and bad conditions of man's life, and which aims at a comprehensive conception of his situation by including all crucial aspects of life’ (Erikson et al., 1987: 178). Nevertheless, measures of the quality of man's biological and physical environment are absent from the book.

(p.91) Loving stands for the need to relate to other people and to form social identities. The level of need satisfaction can be assessed by measures denoting

  1. attachments and contacts in the local community;

  2. attachments to family and kin;

  3. active patterns of friendship;

  4. attachments and contacts with fellow members in association and organizations, and

  5. relationships with work‐mates.

A general finding in the comparative study was that the amount and strength of social relations of companionship and solidarity were zero‐correlated to the material level of living. In other words, in the Scandinavian countries social relations are equally rich in their contact and warmth in castles and huts. The zero‐relationship between material level of living and the components measuring companionship and solidarity applies statistically to a normal Scandinavian population. As soon as material conditions become really bad solidarity and love relationships are also likely to suffer. Something similar might be expected when studying the relationship between the quality of the biological and physical environment and human companionship and solidarity. If the physical environment clearly deteriorates, people might lose some of their abilities for companionship, solidarity, and love.

Being stands for the need for integration into society and to live in harmony with nature. The positive side of Being may be characterized as personal growth, whereas the negative aspect stands for alienation. The indicators measure, for instance:

  1. to what extent a person can participate in decisions and activities influencing his life;

  2. political activities;

  3. opportunities for leisure‐time activities (Doing);

  4. the opportunities for a meaningful work life, and

  5. opportunities to enjoy nature, either through contemplation or through activities such as walking, gardening, and fishing.

2 The Use of Both Objective and Subjective Indicators

The Comparative Scandinavian Welfare Study did not depart from the Swedish approach only as regards whether one should measure resources or the level of need satisfaction. Another difference had to do with whether one should use so‐called objective or subjective indicators. A basic problem facing all construction of social indicators is whether, in assessing the level of human welfare, one should rely on objective measures of external conditions or on personal subjective evaluation by the citizens themselves. The former are simply designed by experts and researchers on the basis of what they think is either necessary (p.92) or wanted by human beings. This was the option taken in the Swedish Level of Living Surveys. On the basis of what issues had been central in Swedish political debate, some areas of concern and components were singled out as particularly important to measure. In the comparative study the decision was to use both objective and subjective indicators.

The words ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are not entirely clear and unambiguous. As already said, objective refers here to reports of factual conditions and overt behaviour whereas subjective stands for measurement of attitudes. The distinction between objective and subjective has a certain resemblance to the philosophical distinction between needs and wants (Barry, 1965: 38–52). In using subjective indicators one is in fact studying people's wants. The objective indicators, however, sometimes refer to needs, sometimes to wants. The main point is that they are designed by experts who may think of both the needs and the wants of people in deciding what should be recorded about people's living conditions.

When objective indicators are being used respondents are not asked to evaluate whether their living conditions are good or bad, satisfactory or unsatisfactory. They are simply asked to report their living conditions or overt behaviour according to some given measures. The dilemma here is a very concrete one. In measuring housing standards, for instance, should one rely on objective measures of the space available and the number of household appliances in the family or should one ask whether or not the respondents are satisfied with their housing conditions? When assessing the quality of air should one rely simply on objective, external measures of the degree of pollution or should one also try to measure people's subjective satisfactions with the air they breathe? People may be aware of the fact that they live in risky environments but they may nevertheless judge the risks to be acceptable (Lowrance, 1976: 1–11). The issue may appear trivial but its solution is by no means self‐evident in assessing human welfare. Superficially, as regards many socio‐economic conditions, it may at least appear very democratic to base the indicators on people's own opinions and attitudes. It is well known, however, that there is great variation in the ability to articulate both satisfaction and discomfort, and that underprivileged people are usually less able to articulate their misgivings than others. To base the choice of welfare criteria entirely on people's subjective views is therefore likely to lead to an unfruitful conservatism. On the other hand, a complete disregard of what people themselves say in its turn allows for a dogmatism of experts. The dilemma would be easier to solve if strong empirical correlations existed between the outcomes of objective and subjective measures. In most studies, however, or rather in most settings studied, the relationship between the objective conditions and the subjective attitudes or perceptions seems surprisingly weak. In the comparative Scandinavian Welfare Study the issue was simply settled by including both objective and subjective indicators. This solution seemed to offer a practical solution in that it diminished the conservatism usually attached to the sole use of subjective indicators, while avoiding the (p.93) undue dogmatism resulting from the use of objective indicators only. Yet the decision was by no means entirely an ideological one. As the objective and subjective indicators usually render different results, analyses of the relationships between them are likely to provide interesting information about social conditions and relationships.

3 The Indicator System

When the division into Having, Loving, and Being is cross‐tabulated with the dichotomy of objective and subjective indicators, a six‐field table is obtained. The cells denote different types of indicator to be used in analyses and evaluations of people's living conditions.

As indicated in Table 1, Having, Loving, and Being can all be studied by both objective and subjective indicators. The former are based on external observations and are usually applied by simply counting different activities. As it is possible to measure the space available per person in a house, one can simply ask the respondents to count the number of friends, observe the amount of political activity, and estimate the opportunities to enjoy nature, etc. Alternatively, people can be asked to express their own attitudes to their living conditions. When asking attitudinal questions about the physical environment it seems natural to phrase the questions in terms of dissatisfaction/satisfaction. When asking attitudinal questions about people's relations to other people, on the other hand, it seems appropriate to ask questions in terms of unhappiness/happiness. Again, when asking questions about people's relations to society and to nature the issue is whether a person experiences alienation or some form of personal growth. Dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and alienation are different and distinct social (p.94) phenomena. This is also the empirical finding of the Comparative Scandinavian Welfare Study. Unhappiness with social relations is zero‐correlated to both dissatisfaction and alienation, whereas there are positive correlations, although fairly weak ones, between dissatisfaction and alienation.

Table 1 Use of Different Indicators for Research into Living Conditions

Objective indicators

Subjective indicators

Having (material and impersonal needs)

1. Objective measures of the level of living and environmental conditions

4. Subjective feelings of dissatisfaction/satisfaction with living conditions

Loving (social needs)

2. Objective measures of relationships to other people

5. Unhappiness/happiness–subjective feelings about social relations

Being (needs for personal growth)

3. Objective measures of people's relation to (a) society, and (b) nature

6. Subjective feelings of alienation/personal growth

The indicator system described here is substantially different from the one used in the Swedish Level of Living Surveys. Yet it is clear that the construction of the indicator system was originally inspired by the Swedish model for welfare research.


Bibliography references:

Alcomo, Joseph, et al. (1987). ‘Acidification in Europe: A Simulation Model for Evaluating Control Strategies’, Ambio, 14, 232–51.

Allardt, Erik (1975). Att ha, alska, att vara. Om valfard i Norden (‘Having, Loving, Being. On Welfare in the Nordic Countries’). Borgholm: Argos.

—— (1976). ‘Dimensions of Welfare in a Comparative Scandinavian Study’, Acta Sociologica, 19, 227–40.

Barry, Brian (1965). Political Argument. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Erikson, Robert, et al. (eds.) (1987). The Scandinavian Model. Welfare States and Welfare Research. London: M. E. Sharpe.

Galtung, Johan (1975). ‘Measuring World Development I’, Alternatives, 1, 131–58.

—— (1980). ‘The Basic Needs Approach’, in Katrin Lederer (ed.), Human Needs. A Contribution to the Current Debate. Cambridge, Mass.: Oelgeschlager, Gunn and Hain.

Johansson, Sten (1970). Om levnadsnivåundersökningen (‘About the Level of Living Survey’). Stockholm: Allmanna forlaget.

Lowrance, William W. (1976). Of Acceptable Risk. Science and the Determination of Safety. Los Altos, Calif.: William Kaufmann.