» June 2016 Member highlight: Kenneth Land - International Society for Quality of Life Studies - ISQOLS

June 2016 Member highlight: Kenneth Land

June 2016 Member highlight:

Kenneth Land









  1. Describe your background, experience, and research as it relates to Quality-of-life studies. What initially attracted you to the field of quality-of-life studies?


My contributions to social indicators/quality-of-life/well-being studies commenced during his Social Science Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Statistics (1969-70) at Columbia University in New York City.  Dr. Eleanor Sheldon of the Russell Sage Foundation, one of the leaders of the Social Indicators Movement in the 1960s, had initiated the Indicators of Social Change Research Project at the Foundation.  Eleanor interviewed me and signed me up to work on the project on a part-time basis during the Post-Doctoral year and then as a Staff Member of the Foundation for three years after that.

The first fruit of my work on the Russell Sage Foundation Indicators of Social Change Project was the Land (1971) article “On the Definition of Social Indicators” published in The American Sociologist in which Ken, as a modeler of social systems, proposed that “… the term social indicators refer to social statistics that (1) are components in a social system model (including sociopsychological, economic, demographic, and ecological) or of some particular segment or process thereof, (2) can be collected and analyzed at various times and accumulated into a time-series, and (3) can be aggregated or disaggregated to levels appropriate to the specifications of the model. Social system model means conceptions of social processes, whether formulated verbally, logically, mathematically, or in computer simulation form. The important point is that the criterion for classifying a social statistic as a social indicator is its informative value which derives from its empirically verified nexus in a conceptualization of a social process.”

I have continued to conduct conceptual, methodological, and empirical research on social indicators/quality-of-life/well-being topics for the past five decades.  Since 1998, I has coordinated the work of a team on the development, analysis, and annual reporting of the U.S. Child and Youth Well-Being Index.  The CWI is an index composed from 28 key indicators of child and youth well-being in the United States grouped into seven domains of well-being that have been identified in prior research on subjective well-being:  family economic well-being, safe/risky behavior, health, social relationships, community engagement, and emotional well-being.  The basic national CWI measures annual changes (improvements or deterioration) in well-being for America’s children ages 0 to 18 relative to values of its key indicators in a base year such as 1975.  At the national level, the CWI has been calculated by gender (males, females), race/ethnic groups (white, black, Hispanic), family income, native-born/immigrant status, three age groups (infancy and early childhood, ages 0 to 5), middle childhood (ages 6 to 11), and adolescents and teenagers (ages 12 to 18), and five quintiles of family income.  And, while originally formulated at the national level, the CWI also has been calculated at the state-level for each of the 50 states in the US and for metropolitan areas/regions within the states.

This measure of trends over the past four decades shows that child and youth well-being in the U.S.:

  • went into a long recession from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s
  • after which it recovered to, or slightly above, 1975 levels in the early 2000s
  • followed by a recovery in 2005-2007 and
  • then a decline associated with the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and a slow recovery in 2010-2015.

The CWI project produces an annual report and update of the Index.

While the trends documented by the CWI  are based on objective social indicators, research has shown that trends over time in the CWI exhibit substantial positive covariation with trends over time in QoL subjective well-being data on teenage life satisfaction.  This is illustrated in comparisons we have done of trends in theCWI from 1975 to 2013 with those of data on overall life satisfaction for High School Seniors from the U.S.Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study .  The MTF question, administered annually to 12th graders since 1975, is of the conventional global satisfaction with life form:  "How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?"  The answer range is a seven-point Likert rating scale:  Completely Dissatisfied, Quite Dissatisfied, Somewhat Dissatisfied, Neither Satisfied or Dissatisfied, Somewhat Satisfied, Quite Satisfied, and Completely Satisfied. Our analyses have found a correlation of 0.86 between the CWI and MTF time series -- the only continuous empirical data on trends in the subjective well-being of children in American society across the past four decades.  In other words, the CWI passes this external validity criterion as an indicator of trends in child and youth well-being in the U.S.  In addition, our analyses suggest that turning points and trends (ups and downs) in the CWI slightly lead the smoothed MTF life satisfaction data series.


2. What are some areas of quality-of-life studies you feel are lacking attention? Any advice for future QoL researchers?

I current am collaborating with Alex Michalos on a paper entitled:


This paper will be published in Social Indicators Research together with several commentaries by other social indicators/quality-of-life researchers and a response by Alex and me.  In the paper, we recount the development of the field from the Social Indicators Movement of the 1960s and 1970s to the present, assess the current state of the field, and outline an agenda for the future.  This agenda is too detailed and nuanced to be stated here.  Suffice it to say that we describe some of the changes in contemporary societies that are being brought about by globalization and computerization/robotization and challenge resarchers to adapt our concepts, theories, research methods, and social reporting pathways.


3. How long have you been a member of ISQOLS? Why did you choose to be a member of ISQOLS? How has your involvement in ISQOLS impacted your career/research/advancement in your knowledge of QoL studies?

I have been a member of the Society since it was  organized in the mid-1990s.  I chose to be a member because ISQOLS provides an opportunity to meet and mingle with other social indicators/quality-of-life researchers in order to learn what they are doing and to share ideas and initiate collaborative research.  These activities can be of great importance to the development of careers of QoL scholars.