Evaluating the structure of subjective well-being in causal models: Are three constructs better than one?

Danney Rasco, University of New Hampshire, Durham


Subjective well-being (SWB) includes cognitive and affective components related to individuals’ perceptions of their quality of life. There is an ongoing debate about the structure of these components in relation to each other and global SWB. Evidence suggests these components are associated with each other and possibly indicative of a higher-order construct, but there is also evidence of discriminant validity among the components suggesting cognitive well-being (i.e., life satisfaction), positive affect, and negative affect represent three distinct constructs. This research examined how experimental manipulations and model conditions impacted the model structure of SWB. It was expected that the preferred model structure (i.e., three separate factors versus single global construct) would be impacted by the context with the separate factors resulting in better fit in some cases while the global construct might result in better fit in other situations. However, the results supported the components of SWB as three distinct constructs in each of the situations examined. Even under conditions where it was initially expected that a single higher-order construct might be appropriate, the model fit was better when using three separate factors to represent the constructs. The theoretical and practical implications are discussed.