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Quality of life much more than standard of living

By Richard Eckersley - posted Monday, 2 October 2017

Other research supports this possibility. For example, a 2012 study of changes in Finnish students' fears for the future between 1983 and 2007, found similar differences in adolescents over time that we found across ages. Fears about war, terrorism and environmental disasters fell, and those about work and education did not change substantially. However more personal fears rose, including fears of failure and making wrong choices, loneliness, accidents, health and death. The authors conclude that perceptions of risk have become more individualised, increasing a sense of uncertainty, uneasiness and insecurity.

So even personal concerns are shaped by changing social conditions; they tell us something about the quality of life of modern societies. In particular, the concerns reveal the costs of the emphasis of modern Western culture - and especially neoliberalism - on the material and the individual. This crowds out or overshadows the more subjective, existential, aspects of life that are crucial to identity, belonging and meaning in life, and so to people's wellbeing.

Findings like ours and those of other similar surveys challenge the orthodoxy that life is continuing to improve for most people. They foreshadowed and help to explain the political upheavals of the past two years, including the election of Donald Trump as president of the US, and Britain's vote to leave the European Union, which caught almost all politicians and commentators by surprise.


Progress should be about improving quality of life, not standard of living. Yet the models and measures of progress we use - and which underpin our politics - neglect important aspects of quality of life, including public perceptions. When our governments and leaders ignore the public mood, we get what we have today.

At worst, this mismatch or disjunction will contribute to times of turmoil and chaos, and possibly derail our attempts to deal with more tangible global threats like climate change; at best, it will force the deeper debate about our lives and the future that we urgently need.

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About the Author

Richard Eckersley is an independent researcher. His work explores progress and wellbeing.

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