WIDER Discussion Papers // World Institute for Development Economics (UNU-WIDER) 2004/06
Economic measures of income have ignored large areas of human well-being and are poor measures of well-being in the areas to which they attend. Despite increased recognition of those distortions, ‘GNP per capita continues to be regarded as the quintessential indicator of a country’s living standard’ (Partha Dasgupta). Well-being seems to have intuitive plausibility as a concept, but in practice we encounter a bewilderingly diverse family of concepts and approaches, partly reflecting different contexts, purposes, and foci of attention. Is there a unifying framework that yet respects the complexity and diversity of well-being? This paper presents an imperfect comparative and integrative framework that builds on the contributions by Sen and others. We move toward the framework gradually, since well-being concepts are in fact complex entitities which reflect pictures of personhood and of science. Insight grows through surveying a wide range of relevant experience and views, before risking blinkering one’s vision in a framework. The paper then uses the framework to examine conceptualizations of human well-being, by Dasgupta, Sen, Nussbaum, Doyal and Gough, and Alkire.