Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Well-Being of Australian Adolescents and Young Adults with Self-Reported Long-Term Health Conditions, Impairments or Disabilities: 2001 and 2006

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Well-Being of Australian Adolescents and Young Adults with Self-Reported Long-Term Health Conditions, Impairments or Disabilities: 2001 and 2006

Article excerpt


Indicators of 'well-being' are increasingly employed to monitor social progress, including progress to reduce socially determined inequalities in the life chances or opportunities of disadvantaged or vulnerable groups. As such, they are central to evaluating the impact of social policies that seek to support the equalisation of opportunities for people with disabilities. As noted in the preamble to the 2007 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 'persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in their participation as equal members of society and violations of their human rights in all parts of the world'. There exists ample evidence to support such an assertion (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2004; Elwan, 1999; Emerson, Fujiura, & Hatton, 2007; Groce, 2003; UNICEF, 2007b).

Contemporary approaches to the measurement of well-being reflect two distinct traditions: (1) social indicators of the conditions under which people live their lives; and (2) subjective indicators of peoples' appraisal of their living situation (including overall measures of subjective well-being or happiness) (Sirgy, et al., 2006).

The value of social indicators is dependent on there being some consensus on: (1) what constitutes a 'good life' or a 'good society'; and (2) which are the most important resources and conditions that enable people to pursue a 'good life'(Diener & Suh, 1997; Grasso & Canova, 2008). Increasing attention has been paid over recent years to the conceptual frameworks used to guide the selection and development of social indicators. These frameworks have included the capabilities framework of Sen and Nussbaum, (Anand, Hunter, & Smth, 2005; Burchardt, 2008; Headey, 2006a; The Equalities Review, 2007), the Scandinavian level of living approach, (Grasso & Canova, 2008) and, more recently, the use of normative frameworks based on human rights instruments to define the social conditions that constitute a good society (Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, 2008; Bradshaw, Hoelscher, & Richardson, 2007; Emerson, Honey, & Llewellyn, 2008; UNICEF, 2007a). For example, Emerson and colleagues selected social indicators based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to characterise the well-being of Australian adolescents and young adults with long-term health conditions, impairments or disabilities (Emerson, et al., 2008). Alternative frameworks for monitoring social progress generally and more specifically in relation to welfare have been developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006) and the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2005).

The use of subjective indicators of well-being to measure social progress is also gaining prominence (Cummins, Walter, & Woerner, 2007; Cummins, Woerner, et al., 2007; Edwards & Imrie, 2008). Indeed, it has been argued that subjective well-being (SWB) or happiness should be the yardstick with which to measure social progress (Layard, 2005). Unfortunately, the association between social indicators of living conditions and SWB is neither simple nor strong. As such, choice of approach will have profound implications for the conclusions that may be drawn regarding the equalisation of opportunity for disadvantaged or vulnerable groups.

Early research suggested that, within the general population, there was only a weak association between social indicators and SWB (Argyle, 1999; Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Easterlin, 2003; Kahneman, Diener, & Schwarz, 1999; Ryan & Deci, 2001; Sirgy, et al., 2006). It also drew attention to the 'paradoxically high' SWB of what may be considered to be particularly disadvantaged groups, including people with significant disabilities (Albrecht & Devlieger, 1999). These (and other) observations led to the development of 'set point' models of SWB that placed primary emphasis on the role of genetic, personality and cognitive variables in establishing a set point for SWB with adaptive or homeostatic processes ensuring that, unless overwhelmed by external events, SWB remains close to that set point (Brickman & Campbell, 1971; Carver & Scheier, 1990; Cummins, 2003; Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999; Headey & Wearing, 1989; Lykken & Tellegen, 1996). …

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