A Measure of Quality of Life

In an ongoing study, three researchers are questioning whether tools that some official agencies use to measure quality of life provide the most reliable data.
A Measure of Quality of Life

They’re looking to multi-criteria decision analysis—a field of operations research and management science—to develop a more accurate way to monitor a population’s well-being.

Conducting the study are Emilios Galariotis and Constantin Zopounidis, finance professors at Audencia Nantes School of Management in France, and Evangelos Grigoroudis, a professor of production engineering and management at the Technical University of Crete in Greece. They call their new tool the multi-criteria satisfaction analysis (MUSA), which they say offers a more quantitative way to work with qualitative data.

Currently, organizations such as the European Union and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development use one of two approaches to measure quality of life. The first is subjective, asking citizens to report on their sense of satisfaction by answering questions regarding jobs, housing, pollution, and public transport. The second is objective, drawing from secondary data found in studies of income, life expectancy, education, health, and the environment.

Unlike previous approaches, MUSA can “handle the qualitative nature of citizens’ perception without an arbitrary quantification of this data,” the researchers write. MUSA gathers citizens’ perceptions on a wider range of 20 criteria in areas such as cost of living and employment opportunities; safety; infrastructure; pollution; public transport; quality of public and municipal services; the integration of immigrants in a community; and business, cultural, and entertainment opportunities.

The professors tested MUSA in the Greek cities of Chania and Heraklion, surveying nearly 300 households. They found that MUSA offered more nuanced results than other approaches—for instance, they could determine that areas such as employment and infrastructure inspired higher levels of satisfaction than other areas. They found that responses often depended on age: The elderly appeared less satisfied with cost of living and security, while younger respondents seemed more satisfied with noise pollution levels and entertainment.

They also found that respondents with low expectations often reported high levels of satisfaction, and vice versa, even with no observable change in quality.

The researchers plan to widen their testing to confirm these results. They hope that governing bodies eventually will use MUSA as a more reliable barometer of citizens’ attitudes in order to improve policy making at all levels of government.