SOCIAL CHANGE RESEARCH PROJECT
A Simple Quality of Life Scale
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First Copyright April 2016. May be used provided
proper citation is given. See note at bottom.
In this brief report, we describe a simple method of
constructing a quality of life scale (SQoLS). The UN has a
quality of life scale, the HDI, probably the most used quality
of life scale. The HDI requires some adjustments and special
calculations, which seem reasonable and justified, once they
are explained. In this current report, however, we describe a
quality of life scale that does not use any complex
adjustments or calculations, but still correlates with the HDI
at 0.96. Additionally, an expanded version of the new scale
also incorporates freedom and happiness, two traits not
included in the HDI. One article indicated that "An
ideal population health outcome metric should reflect a
population’s dynamic state of physical, mental, and social
well-being."1 And so we added in indicators for
social and mental well being.
The UN Human Development Index (HDI)
The HDI "was created to emphasize that people and their
capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the
development of a country" The HDI "is a summary measure
of average achievement in key dimensions of human development:
a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent
standard of living."
There are a few complexities in constructing the HDI,
described in the technical notes http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr2015_technical_notes.pdf
1. "The HDI is the geometric mean of normalized indices for
each of the three dimensions." Geometric means can be used
when a distribution has very high or low values. For example
in a distribution of income or infant mortality, a few
countries may have very high rates, compared to the rest. The
very high rates of a few countries could skew the arithmetic
average to be much higher than it would be without those
2. In using the income per capita, they use the logarithm of
the income: "each additional dollar of income has a
smaller effect on expanding capabilities. Thus for income, the
natural logarithm of the actual, minimum and maximum values is
3. The HDI sets upper and lower limits to each indicator so
they can transform each indicator to standardized units
between 0 and 1. "These goalposts act as the ‘natural zeros’
and ‘aspirational goals’, respectively, from which component
indicators are standardized."
Simple Quality of Life Scale (SQoLS)
The SQoLS was constructed as follows:
Starting with the scores of five variables (GDP per Capita,
Infant Mortality Rate, Education, Freedom, Happiness), the
means and standard deviations were calculated.
Second, I calculated how many standard deviations away each
country was from the mean of their variable. The Standard
Deviations (SD) away from the mean is the new score.
Then I averaged all SD scores for three variables, GDP per
Capita, Infant Mortality Rate, and Education, for a simple
version of a “Quality of Life” scale. Next, two more
variables, Freedom and Happiness, were added for a slightly
more comprehensive version.
Before averaging, I also reversed the signs for Infant
Mortality Rate, so high would be good, which was comparable to
education and GDP per capita.
Freedom originally is scored so low = more freedom. Thus, I
also reversed the signs for freedom.
128 countries had data for all five variables. Table 1 below
shows the correlation of the variables with the HDI among
those countries. As can be seen, the average of the three
variables in the very simple scale correlates 0.96 with the
HDI. Among those variables, IMR by itself correlated almost as
high, 0.93, with HDI. The table also shows the correlation of
the five variable index with HDI. Freedom correlates rather
less with HDI, but still at a moderate level, 0.57.
Table 2 shows the top and bottom 20 countries in the SQoLS
(using all five variables) and the UN HDI. Among the 20
countries with the highest score in the Simple Quality of Life
Scale, 18 are also in the top in the HDI. Among the 20
countries with the lowest SQoLS score, 15 are also in the
bottom in the HDI. If a comparison is made between the
HDI and the SQoLS just using the three variables (GDP per
Capita, IMR and Education), then 18 of the top SQoLS countries
are the same as the HDI top 20, and 17 of the bottom SQoLS
countries are the same as the HDI bottom 20.
Basically, using a simple scale construction can come fairly
close to the HDI.
Table 1. Correlations of scales with UN Human
|Infant Mortality Rate
|Average Years of School
|GDP per Capita
|Average of three SD
|Average of all five SD
Table 2. Top and bottom 20 countries in Simple Quality of Life
scale and UN HDI scale
|Countries in Simple Scale
||Countries in HDI
||Republic of Korea (South)
|United States of America
||United States of America
||Central African Republic
|Central African Republic
||Democratic Republic of the Congo
|Congo, Republic of the
|Democratic Republic of the
||United Republic of Tanzania
See the data file for data
Gene Shackman, Xun Wang and Ya-Lin Liu. 2016. A Simple Quality
of Life Scale. From The Global Social Change Research Project
Copyright April 2016
1. Parrish RG. Measuring population health outcomes. Prev
Chronic Dis 2010;7(4):A71. http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2010/jul/10_0005.htm
2. a. George Shook, "Demystifying Geometric Means". National
Mastitis Council Newsletter, 2011, Volume 34, No. 1 & 2. http://nmconline.org/newsletters/UT34-01_02.pdf
b. Geometric mean. Biomonitoring California.
no date given. Retrieved 2/7/2016 from http://biomonitoring.ca.gov/glossary/geometric-mean
c. Geometric mean. Baltimore County
Department of Health. no date given. Retrieved 2/7/2016
Region and Area definition
United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Population Division. World Economic Prospects, 2015 Edition.
Documentation. Other data
Total population, both sexes combined
World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, United Nations
Infant mortality rate
Source: World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision | United
Nations Population Division
According to the UN site, http://data.un.org/Host.aspx?Content=UNdataUse
All data and metadata provided on UNdata’s website are available
free of charge and may be copied freely, duplicated and further
distributed provided that UNdata is cited as the reference.
Real 2005 Per Capita ($) GDP
Historical Gross Domestic Product Per Capita (GDP per cap)
for Baseline Countries/Regions (in 2005 dollars) 1969-2013
Source: ERS International Macroeconomic Data Set
Contact: Dr, Mathew Shane (202-694-5282, email@example.com)
Information important for using this table.
I use ERS as the data source because the UN does not have
entries for the former USSR countries before 1995, while the ERS
Average years of schooling
The WorldBank says:
You are encouraged to use the Datasets to benefit yourself and
others in creative ways. You may extract, download, and make
copies of the information contained in the Datasets, and you may
share that information with third parties.
NOTE: average years of schooling correlates .7 to .9 with
percent of people with no education
It also generally correlates highly with percent who finished
primary, secondary and tertiary schools
The worldbank data does not provide "world" estimates
World happiness report
I used 2015 data. The website says, about the 2016 report:
This publication may be reproduced using the following
Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2016). World
Happiness Report 2016, Update (Vol. I). New York: Sustainable
Development Solutions Network.
World Happiness Report management by Sharon Paculor and Anthony
Annett, copy edit by Jill Hamburg Coplan, Aditi Shah and Saloni
Jain, design by John Stislow and Stephanie Stislow, cover design
by Sunghee Kim.
Full text and supporting documentation can be downloaded from
the website: http://worldhappiness.report/#happiness2016
ISBN 978-0-9968513-3-6 Volume I
According to the World Happiness FAQ page http://worldhappiness.report/faq/
the scores are based on responses to questions from the Gallup
UNDP Human Development Index (HDI)
From the UNDP Human Development Report.
redistribute, etc, as long as we give appropriate credit,
provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were
Freedom in the World (PR and CL)
Data copyright by the Freedom House, included here by permission
Any use of these data should include citation to the Freedom
1972 data for South Africa is from 1973
Data are included for 1990 and 1995 because former USSR data
only start after 1990. No data before that.
However, there is data for USSR up through 1990.
"PR" stands for "Political Rights," "CL" stands for "Civil
Liberties," and "Status" is the Freedom Status.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties are measured on a
one-to-seven scale, with one representing the highest degree of
Freedom and seven the lowest.
“F,” “PF,” and “NF,” respectively, stand for “Free,” “Partly
Free,” and “Not Free.”
Until 2003, countries whose combined average ratings for
Political Rights and for Civil Liberties fell between 1.0 and
2.5 were designated "Free"; between 3.0 and 5.5 “Partly Free,"
and between 5.5 and 7.0 “Not Free.”
Beginning with the ratings for 2003, countries whose combined
average ratings fall between 3.0 and 5.0 are "Partly Free," and
those between 5.5 and 7.0 are "Not Free."