SP440      Half Unit
Wellbeing and Public Policy

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Paul Frijters 32 LF 2.14 and Mr Christian Krekel 32L 2.24


This course is available on the MSc in International Social and Public Policy, MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Development), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Migration), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Non-Governmental Organisations) and MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Research). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

All Social Policy Courses are ‘Controlled Access’. Please see the link below for further details on the allocation process.




Course content

The course is structured as follows:

Lecture 1 What is wellbeing and how is it measured?

This lecture will give an overview of the philosophical idea of wellbeing and the current ways to measure it at the individual, organisational, national, and international level.

Lecture 2 The frontiers of wellbeing measurement?

This lecture will go beyond the dominant current approaches to measurement (which are based on subjective responses) and will delve into core aspect of both response theory and biometrics, with an eye on what social policy needs from a measurement.

Seminar 1: Lecture 2: will be complemented with a linked seminar focusing on the basic statistics available to students and researchers in the UK about wellbeing measurement. This includes the Understanding Society databases run by the Office of National Statistics, the British Household Panel, the Birth Cohorts (1946, 1958, 1970, and 2000), and particular databases (Gallup, psychiatric cross-sections).

Lecture 3: What do we know about wellbeing and how it can be changed?We will discuss some of the basic findings of wellbeing research in this lecture, so that students have a reasonable understanding of how wellbeing is affected at the individual level and national level.

Seminar 2:  Lecture 3:  will be complemented with a linked seminar where particular attention will be paid to:

1) The measurement of each of the important individual drivers of wellbeing.

2) The measurement of each of the important national drivers of wellbeing.

3) Basic statistical manipulations of these measures.

Lecture 4: Wellbeing interventions at the individual level.

In this lecture we take students more in depth through the main results of the wellbeing literature, taking an intervention lens.

Seminar 3: in this seminar we take students through the basics and extended forms of cognitive behavioural therapy, the Incredible Years program, and the methodology of the rat-race.

Lecture 5: Wellbeing interventions in firms and organisations.

In this lecture we take students more in depth through the main results of the wellbeing literature in organisations, taking an intervention lense.

Seminar 4: in this seminar we take students through the main datasets and methodology used to analyse wellbeing inside firms and organisations, drawing heavily on compulsory wellbeing measurements inside the UK civil service (all departments need to measure worker satisfaction and publish this!).

Lecture 6: Wellbeing at the regional level.

Seminar 5: in this seminar we take students through the What Works Centre for Wellbeing website.

Lecture 7: Wellbeing at the national level.

Seminar 6: in this seminar we take students through the key sources of national wellbeing data: the world value survey, the Gallup data sets, and the main national panels.

Lecture 8: The basics of wellbeing cost-effectiveness? Principles and some examples.

This lecture will introduce students to the basic calculus and logic of cost-effectiveness analysis.

Seminar 7: in this seminar we will go much more in depth into each of the 2 simple examples given of cost-effectiveness analysis in the UK and Germany. 

Lecture 9: Advanced wellbeing Cost-Effectiveness analysis.


Seminar 8: Lecture 5  will have a linked seminar which goes much more in-depth into the methodology prescribed and used by NICE.

Lecture 10: Wellbeing inside the policy process: UK frontiers.

Seminar 9-10: Students present their current work (10 minutes each) and get feedback (10 minutes each: 5 on presentation, 5 on the preliminary essays) to help them finalise their essays.


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

Students will be expected to produce a plan for their Summative assessment as their formative work, upon which they will recieve feedback.

Indicative reading

Benjamin, Daniel J., et al. "What do you think would make you happier? What do you think you would choose?." American Economic Review 102.5 (2012): 2083-2110.

Clark, AE, Fleche, S., Layard, R., Powdthavee, N., and Ward, G. (2017) “The Origins of Happiness”, Princeton University Press.

Clark, A., Frijters, P., Shields, M.A. (2008), ‘A survey of the income happiness gradient’, Journal of Economic Literature, 46(1), March 2008, pp. 95-144. also IZA, NCER, and DELTA discussion paper.

De Neve, J-E. and Ward, G. “Happiness at Work”. In 2017 World Happiness Report edited by Helliwell, Layard, and Sachs.

Diener, Ed; Inglehart, Ronald; Tay, Louis “Theory and validity of life satisfaction scales.” Social Indicators Research, 2013, 112, 497-527.

Frijters, P, Johnston, D., Shields, M. (2014) "Does Childhood Predict Adult Life Satisfaction? Evidence from British Cohort Surveys ", Economic journal, vol. 124(580), pages F688-F719, November.

Brain science

Rutledge, Robb B.; Skandali, Nikolina; Dayan, Peter; et al. “A computational and neural model of momentary subjective well-being.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA2014, 111, 12252-57.

Steptoe, Andrew; Deaton, Angus; Stone, Arthur A. “Subjective wellbeing, health, and ageing.” Lancet, 2015, 385, 640-648.

Van Praag, BMS; Baarsma, BE. “Using happiness surveys to value intangibles: The case of airport noise.” Economic Journal, 2005, 224-246.


Coursework (100%, 6000 words) in the ST.

Assessment detail:

A report on the changes in wellbeing in a particular (student-specific) area of the UK, using available data (such as aggregated Understanding Society data) from 2010-2017. Students who want to look at a country rather than a UK region can do so, subject to data availability. The students will be required to master basic data such that they can show how wellbeing has changed in the chosen region of the UK, how that change relates to other areas in the UK, and how changes to key inputs into wellbeing have changed in the chosen area and the UK as a whole, using Understanding Society data and (possibly) other sources. It will be open to students to write their assessed report about a non-UK country if they wish, subject to prior agreement with the course convenor that it is feasible to do so (e.g. because of data availability considerations). Students need to show they have understood the course material by analysing and discussing the likely contributors to the changes in wellbeing in their chosen region (or non-UK country), culminating in the provisions of conclusions about the sustainability and likely trajectory of the changes, as well as about potential optimal policy reactions.

This summative essay will be due in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills