Babic, Bernhard (2017). 'Good but not good enough? Assessing the Austrian Better Life Index for Adolescents from a Capability Perspective' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


The Austrian federal ministry for families and youth published recently in its seventh report on the state of adolescents (BMFJ 2016) a new Index concerning the well-being of young people.  It can be seen as a national and age related specification of the OECD’s Better Life Index (OECD 2014). According to its authors it allows on the one hand to gather relevant information about the quality of life of adolescents and how it can be improved. On the other hand it generally raises the awareness for the situation of young people and its political significance (BMFJ 2016, p. 6). In other words, the index is meant to help designing and to support promoting youth policies which should be able to cope better with the challenges arising from human development and social change in Austria.

Therefore, it is not only following the recommendation of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report (Stiglitz et al. 2009), that measuring well-being has to go beyond GDP and needs to take place on the base of a multidimensional approach. It also picks up the suggestion to include subjective well-being indicators - additionally to the more common objective ones. On the first view it corresponds perfectly with up-to-date conceptions of child well-being (see Ben-Arieh 2014; Bradshaw et al. 2013) in these contexts.

Based on the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions from 2013 (EU-SILC 2013) and the according ad-hoc module on well-being the composite indicator claims to describe the young people’s quality of life in ten different areas of life: material living conditions, productive activities and work, health, education, social relations, leisure time, safety, quality of institutions/authorities, housing and natural living environment, subjective well-being (BMFJ 2016, p. 49f). The according data file comprised finally 1.748 datasets of Austrian adolescents and young adults between 15 and 30 years of age. Beyond that, for weighting the single items within the index a participatory process was started, where 1.691 persons between 15 and 30 were asked for their preferences and priorities concerning these pre-selected aspects of well-being.

However, taking into account that the sample does not allow to differentiate between the nine federal states of Austria, it can be questioned, if this index is an appropriate measure for the well-being of adolescents in this country. Especially, as there is by now no other nation with a comparable index, which does not allow to use it for international comparisons – usually on of the strongest arguments used for the justification of such composite indicators (see Martorano et al. 2013).

Additionally, according to Sen (2001, 2004) and Alkire (2002) one can criticize that the young people are only allowed to express their priorities concerning the ranking of items, representing pre-defined aspects of well-being, instead of being involved in the definition of relevant well-being dimensions itself. Ignoring the young people’s according agency (see Biggeri et al. 2006) can be understood as severe deficit from a capability perspective, although the participatory process for weighting the items of the index seems to fulfill to some extent the methodological recommendations for the selection of indicators proposed by Robeyns (2005).

However, the index shows also no awareness that especially in the case of children and youths one has to take into account their current as well as their future well-being, last but not least to avoid any negative trade-offs in this context (see Babic 2015). As a consequence, it’s not clear, if and to which extent this index can really contribute to managing social change successfully.

Therefore, selected options for the further development of the well-being index on the base of the Capability Approach will be discussed within this presentation too.

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