During the POLPAN Seminar on July 9th Professor Bruce Headey (University of Melbourne) presented a paper titled ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’: Alternative Values-Based ‘Recipes’ for Life Satisfaction. The paper has been prepared together with Professor Gert G. Wagner (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin).


In most previous research on the determinants of Life Satisfaction (LS), there has been an assumption, usually unstated, that ‘one size fits all’. It has been assumed that the covariates and potential causes of high and low LS are similar for everyone, or at least everyone in the Western world. Even the newer literature on LS in low and middle income countries appears to rest on the same assumption, except for recognition of the greater importance of income, health and governmental corruption (United Nations, World Happiness Reports, 2012-17).

In this paper, using longitudinal data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), we estimate structural equation models based on alternative ‘recipes’ for high and low LS. Specifically, we indicate that there appear to be four distinct ‘recipes’, which are primarily based on the values/life priorities of different subsets of the population. These values/life priorities are: altruistic/pro-social values, family values, materialistic (money and career) values, and religious values (Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, 1961).

By a ‘recipe’ we mean a conceptually and empirically linked set of values, behavioural choices and domain satisfactions which prove to have substantial effects on LS. For example, the altruistic ‘recipe’ involves giving high priority to altruistic, pro-social values and making the behavioural choices of engaging in volunteer work, regularly attending community events, and meeting often with friends, relatives and neighbours to provide help and support as well as friendship. Altruistic values and behavioural choices are then linked to high levels of satisfaction with volunteering and with one’s social life.

The evidence indicates that individuals who follow recipes based on altruistic, family or religious values record above average long term LS, whereas the materialistic values ‘recipe’ is linked to below average LS.

In estimating structural equations, we exploit the longitudinal nature of the data by modelling values as temporally and causally prior to behavioural choices, which in turn are viewed as causally prior to domain satisfactions and LS.


Keywords:  life satisfaction; recipes; values/life priorities; behavioural choices