The Complexity of Well-Being
A Life-Satisfaction Conception and a Domains-of-Life Approach

Mariano Rojas
Universidad de las Américas, Puebla, Mexico

“An economist who is nothing but an economist is a danger to his neighbours. Economics is not a thing in itself; it is a study of one aspect of the life of man in society.” John R. Hicks, cited by Meier (1991, p. 352)

The investigation follows a subjective well-being approach to study a person’s well-being. It is argued that life satisfaction, as declared by the person herself, provides information that is useful in the study of human well-being. The approach has many advantages, in particular because it deals with human beings as they are: human beings of flesh and blood and in their circumstance. In addition, according to the domains-of-life literature, the whole construct of a person’s life satisfaction can be approached from a domains-of-life perspective; this is: life satisfaction is understood in its relation to satisfaction in concrete areas of being.

On the basis of information from a Mexican survey, the investigation uses factor-analysis techniques to define seven domains of life (health, economic, job, family, friendship, personal, and community) and to construct indicators of satisfaction in these domains. The empirical research confines itself to persons who function in all seven domains of life. The relationship between life satisfaction and satisfaction in the domains of life is studied.
It is found that satisfaction in the family domain is crucial for life satisfaction; this domain includes satisfaction with spouse, children, and rest of family. Satisfaction in the economic and personal domains is also very important for a person’s satisfaction with her life. The economic domain refers to satisfaction in areas of life such as housing and living condition, financial solvency, and income; while the personal domain refers to satisfaction in pursuing personal hobbies and interests, in recreational activities, and in personal growth. The health and job domains are less fundamental, but still important for a person’s satisfaction with life.

The domains-of-life literature implies that the impact of socioeconomic and demographic variables on life satisfaction passes by their influence in domains of life satisfaction. Hence, their importance depends on how strong their influence is in those domains that have proven to be important for life satisfaction. A variable would be more important in explaining life satisfaction if it is strongly related to satisfaction in those domains that are more important in generating life satisfaction.
The investigation finds that the positive impact of more education spreads across almost all domains of life under consideration. Thus, education is a very important variable in explaining satisfaction in many domains of life and, in special, in those domains of life that are important for life satisfaction. Hence, education could be a powerful instrument in the social procurement of well-being.

The impact of more income on domain satisfaction is limited to the economic and job domains. Satisfaction in these domains is important for life satisfaction and, in consequence, income can play a role in increasing life satisfaction. However, income is not a relevant explanatory variable for satisfaction in domains such as family and personal, which are also crucial for life satisfaction.

In what respects to gender, it is found that men are more satisfied than women in the health, job, family and personal domains; which are important for life satisfaction. Similarly, it is found that satisfaction in the health, job and family domains declines with age. These gender and age differences in domain satisfaction could emerge from the interaction of physiological differences and social institutions that turn these differences into dissimilar satisfaction levels.

The low goodness of fit of the domains-of-life satisfaction regressions indicate that more research is needed in the understanding of domains-of-life satisfaction. It is clear that satisfaction in the domains of life does not closely follow some indicators that are usually used as its proxy.

Well-being, understood as life satisfaction, and approached from a domains of life perspective, is a complex phenomena. As it is articulated in John Hicks’ statement, it goes beyond the economics arena to include other aspects of life. These domains of life are interrelated in intricate ways and their relationship to life satisfaction is non linear. Because of diminishing returns to domain satisfaction, the life-satisfaction benefit from an improvement in any domain satisfaction is greater when the initial satisfaction in that domain is low than when it is high. Therefore, concern for well-being improvement should focus not only on those domains that are very important, but also on those domains where satisfaction is relatively low. In consequence, in what respects to research and promotion of human well-being, it is better to keep a broad perspective and look at all those features that lead to a life a person is satisfied with, rather than to concentrate in the promotion of satisfaction in just one domain (such as the economic one) From an academic perspective, this implies that the study of well-being asks for an interdisciplinary, or a transdisciplinary, approach. In addition, the study of well-being can not avoid subjectivity, since it is the person (subject) the one who, in the end, lives the condition of being well.

Knowledge about which and how domains of life are important for a person being satisfied with her life is of value for policy making. It is necessary to identify those personal resources that contribute to satisfaction in each domain of life. For the social procurement of well-being it would also be valuable to understand the role that social institutions, and the organisation of society in general, play in domains of life satisfaction.

The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 considers the methodological approach; in particular, it deals with the subjective well-being approach, with life satisfaction as a subjective well-being conception, and with the relevant literature on domains of life. Section 3 discusses the database, it also explains the definition of the domains of life and the construction of the relevant variables. Section 4 presents some descriptive statistics on life satisfaction and satisfaction in the domains of life. Section 5 uses regression analysis to study the relationship between life satisfaction and satisfaction in the domains of life. Sections 6 and 7 examine the differences in satisfaction across some socioeconomic and demographic groups. Section 8 presents general conclusions about the relationship between life satisfaction, satisfaction in domains of life, and some socioeconomic and demographic variables, such as education, income, gender and age. Final considerations are also made in Section 8.