Do Danes and Italians Rate Life Satisfaction in the Same Way? Using Vignettes to Correct for Individual-Specific Scale Biases


  • We are grateful to the Editor (John Knight) and two anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. We also thank Rob Alessie, Teresa Bago d'Uva, Luigino Bruni, Andrew Clark, Emanuela D'Angelo, Dirk Engelmann, Benedetto Gui, Werner Güth, Kirsten Hager, Karsten Hank, Manfred J. Holler, Oliver Kirchkamp, Nicolai Kristensen, Martin Leroch, Wieland Müller, Giovanni Porzio, Arthur van Soest, Guglielmo Weber and participants at seminars at the University of Groningen, the University of Hamburg, INED (Paris), the Max Planck Institute of Jena, the Paris School of Economics and at the conference ‘Well-being, Are We Happy with our Standard of Living?’ (2008), the Nordic Conference on Behavioral and Experimental Economics (2008), the Netspar Pension Workshop (2009), BOMOPA (2009), the Workshop of Italian Behavioral and Experimental Economists (2009), the Conference ‘Happiness and Relational Goods’ (2009), the 64th ESEM (2009), the AIEL Conference (2009), the ESA European Regional Meeting (2009), the Royal Economic Society Annual Conference (2010), IAREP (2010) and the New Directions in Welfare Congress (2011). Financial support from the European Commission through the STREP project COMPARE n. 028857 is gratefully acknowledged. This article uses data from SHARE Wave 2. SHARE data collection was primarily funded by the European Commission through its 5th and 6th framework programmes (project numbers QLK6-CT-2001-00360, RII-CT-2006-062193 and CIT5-CT-2005-028857). Additional funding by the US National Institute on Aging (grant numbers U01 AG09740-13S2, P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, Y1-AG-4553-01, OGHA 04-064 and R21 AG025169) as well as by various national sources is gratefully acknowledged (visit for a full list of funding institutions).


Self-reported life satisfaction is highly heterogeneous across similar countries, a phenomenon that may be explained by the different scales and benchmarks that people use to evaluate themselves. This study uses cross-sectional data gathered from older populations in ten European countries to compare estimates from a model that assumes reporting styles are constant across respondents against estimates from a model in which anchoring vignettes help correct for individual-specific scale biases. Variations in response scales explain much of the difference in the raw data. Moreover, the cross-country ranking in life satisfaction depends significantly on scale biases.