Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 123–143 | Cite as

International Determinants of Subjective Well-Being: Living in a Subjectively Material World

Research Paper


Researchers, policymakers, and the general public increasingly agree on the importance of subjective well-being as an indicator of individual and societal welfare. A vast literature has emerged over the last twenty years documenting the many variables that influence subjective well-being. The purpose of this study is to quantify the relative importance of these determinants in an attempt to synthesize the main strands in the literature and inform policy formulations. We use in our analysis three years’ worth of data from the Gallup World Poll, including 153 countries and ten geopolitical regions. We estimate the relative importance of four major domains of subjective well-being using a basic model with 25 independent variables, and a broader set of seven domains using an extended model with 60 independent variables. Our results show that material well-being is the main determinant of subjective well-being across all ten geopolitical regions. A particularly strong determinant of subjective well-being in our study is feelings about household income, whereas community functioning, governance and altruistic behaviors have a relatively low importance. Our results suggest that subjective material well-being and its objective determinants, including economic growth and income inequality, should remain at the center of the research and policy agenda. Further research is recommended to ascertain the relative importance of social, physical and purpose well-being.


Subjective well-being Life evaluation Experienced well-being International differences World Poll 



We would like to thank Gallup for providing access to the Gallup World Poll data. We are particularly grateful to our Gallup colleagues that provided logistic support and feedback on this manuscript, including Julie Ray, Rajesh Srinivasan, Andrew Rzepa, Jon Clifton, Stafford Nichols and Jihad Fakhreddine.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 97 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 115 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (PDF 57 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (PDF 56 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pablo Diego-Rosell
    • 1
  • Robert Tortora
    • 2
  • James Bird
    • 1
  1. 1.The Gallup OrganizationWashington DCUSA
  2. 2.ICFFairfaxUSA

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