Factors affecting cross-cultural comparability of subjective well-being measures

In summary, good survey methodology is essential to minimize measurement error: questionnaire design and validation, adequate translation practices (such as back-translation), cognitive testing and so on. Caution must in any case be exercised when drawing international comparisons, as further research is still needed to establish the cross-cultural comparability of subjective well-being measures.


Semantic and conceptual equivalence challenges must be considered. Semantic equivalence refers to the choice of terms and semantic structures to ensure the equivalence of the translation. Conceptual equivalence refers to the degree to which a concept exists in the target language, irrespective of the words used. In addition, operational difficulties may arise when using emphasis in non-Latin-based scripts (such as use of capital letters).

Cognitive challenges

The Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale has proved to be cognitively challenging in different cultural contexts, in part because the wording that introduces the concept is relatively involved. The use of metaphorical constructs may also not be equally useful in all cultures. Contextual effects In the case of experienced well-being, short-term events may have strong effects on scores. For example, if the reference period is a Sunday, experienced well-being ratings tend to be higher on average, although cultural variations exist: as might be expected, Friday ratings are higher for Muslim societies, since it is the day of prayer, when most people do not work. 

Response bias

Some cultures may have numeric preferences on a 0–10 scale, but it is hard to tell whether this represents a genuine difference in subjective well-being levels or a culturally ingrained approach towards scales. 

Item function

Some items, such as those purporting to measure life evaluations in the next five years, may not function as well in some cultures.