Life Satisfaction in Canada

Resources from the Happiness Economics Research Group at McGill University


Life satisfaction data are expensive to collect

Life satisfaction (SWL) data are expensive to collect, because
  1. In recent times, it's hard to get high response rates on surveys. Response rate is critical to the validity of survey data. Thus, good survey data are expensive.

    The life satisfaction question should be on the census (as in Bhutan), and governments ought likely to have more frequent and regular communication with their populations.

  2. Life satisfaction data are "noisy". That is, although the patterns explaining differences across individuals and regions are robust, there is still some considerable fraction of variation in responses that are due to "genetics". Thus, large samples are generally needed. This makes it a challenge to resolve differences over small spatial scales or changes over short time periods.

Surveys carried out in Canada

Therefore, most SWL data in Canada come from Statistics Canada; we catalogued them. Exceptions are
  1. the Equality, Security and Community (ESC) Survey, a SSHRC-funded survey across Canada from 2003-2003.
  2. An annual international survey, the Gallup World Poll, which contains "Cantril's Ladder", a variant of SWL. Those data are prominently features in the annual World Happiness Report.
  3. A periodic international survey, the World Values Survey.

Download some data

For government data, in general the original, individual-level data are available only to university researchers and government itself. However, in 2019 colleagues at UBC, Statistics Canada, and I published a set of publicly-releasable aggregates at the community level across Canada by averaging over several years.

You can download those high-resolution Canadian data in tabular or mappable form: PLoS ONE 2019. These are shown as the "high-resolution" mode in our Map.

You can also get some of the international data (which include Canada):

  1. The international data used in our Map were published in the World Happiness Report, in turn sourced from the Gallup World Poll. They are responses to the Cantril Ladder Question, which is similar to the Life Satisfaction question. They are all available online.
  2. If you're a researcher, you can download data from the World Values Survey

You can see a list of all Statistics Canada surveys which include the life satisfaction question, as well as answers to questions about life satisfaction and our research, at