Social Well-Being and Quality of Life

In another article, we have discussed the concept of Social Well Being in Geography. We concluded that social well being is a very generic concept and its perception varies from person to person. Therefore, the social scientists have come up with a new concept i.e. Quality of Life (QOL). They argue that the the social well-being and quality of life are correlated. Hence improvement in the quality of life leads to the improvement in social well being. Therefore, QOL helps to make an objective assessment of social well being.

What is Quality of Life?

Quality of life denotes the status of overall welfare of an individual, community or group. The welfare may be internal or external to people.

  • It is a broader concept than Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI measures the welfare of population through three proxy variables i.e. Income, Education and Life Expectancy. However, these variables do not point towards the social, political and mental welfare of an individual or group.
  • UNESCO report (1977) defines QOL as “the satisfaction of an inclusive set of human need.”
  • Duber (1983) considers quality of life as an inclusive concept which covers material satisfaction of vital needs as well as intangible aspects of life, such as personal development, self realization and a healthy eco-system etc.

As we know that meaning of the well being and the quality of life may be very naïve for different people. Therefore, assessment of quality of life needs certain quantitative indicators.

Smith is one of the pioneers who attempted to quantify the QOL. His index is as following.

Smith’s Indicators of Quality of Life

D. M. Smith (1973) included the following indicators for assessment of QOL.

  1. Income, wealth and employment.
  2. The living environment including dwelling and neighborhood.
  3. Physical and mental health.
  4. Education, including attainment and quality.
  5. Social order which involves personal and family problems, crime and public order.
  6. Social belonging, consisting of democratic participation and segregation.
  7. Recreation and leisure.

These indicators covers all spheres of life i.e. social, economic and political.

Social Well-Being and Quality of Life

Since, the people’s well being depends on satisfaction of needs and their judgement of needs is  is flawed, measurement of well being also becomes flawed. People’s judgement of needs is skewed because of following reasons.

  1. Demonstration Effect: Humans are social animals. Therefore, they copy the consumption pattern of other members of the society. They do not consume certain products because they need them. They consume those products to attain social validation. For example, a single person only needs a small car to travel but he will buy a bigger or costlier car just because his rich friend also have a costly car. In reality he does not need a bigger car.
  2. Temperament: People’s needs and wants depend on their nature or temperament and the temperament varies from person to person. Each person prioritizes their needs differently.
  3. Limited information: People have limited information, therefore, they are not able to make a rational and factual judgement of their needs.

QOL In Geographical Analysis

Quality of life is a multidisciplinary concept and different disciplines can study it. The geographers focus on the following types of analysis of QOL.

Spatial Patterns

Geographers study the spatial pattern of QOL. They can regionalize the area based on the range of QOL i.e. good, moderate and bad quality of life. It helps to make focused policies for each type of region.

Spatial Deprivation

Geography helps to demarcate the regions of deprivation and suggest policy measures to improve the quality of life in those regions.

Policy Bias and Urban Bias

  • The geographical research can point out the exact reason of the regional differences in QOL. These reasons can be due to lack of natural resources, lack of capital or government’s policy biases.
  • It is often seen that the QOL in urban area is better than the rural are. Health, employment, education and other facilities are available easily in urban area. Therefore, the geographers can formulate policies which may help in trickle down of benefits of growth from urban to rural areas.

Intersectional Research

  • Geographers do intersectional research and helps to locate marginalized regions and groups.
  • For instance, a region with good quality of life may have certain marginalized sections which have bad QOL e.g. dalits, women, slum dwellers, religious minorities and sex workers etc.
  • Similarly, geographical research helps to understand that certain marginalized groups are better-off than others.
  • For instance, the upper caste women may be marginalized in comparison to upper caste men but they are better than the dalit men.


We can conclude that QOL and social well-being correspond to each other. However, QOL is more objective, rational and certain way of measurement of well being. Contrary to needs framework, QOL depends on certain quantifiable indicators. These indicators are not based on perception. Through spatial analysis, geography contributes widely to the improvement of quality of life of various geographical regions and sections of society.