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Quality of American Life, The

Quality of American Life, The: Perceptions, Evaluations, and Satisfactions

Angus Campbell
Philip E. Converse
Willard L. Rodgers
Copyright Date: 1976
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 600
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  • Book Info
    Quality of American Life, The
    Book Description:

    Considers how Americans define the quality of their life experiences, as expressed in their perceptions, evaluations, and satisfactions. Based on research conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, the book uses data which are representative of the national population eighteen years of age and older, and employs the major social characteristics of class, age, education, and income. The authors cover such topics as the residential environment, the experience of work, marriage, and family life, and personal resources and competence. They also report on the situation of women and the quality of the life experience of black people.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-103-2
    Subjects: Psychology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xv)
    Angus Campbell, Philip E. Converse and Willard L. Rodgers
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1932 Herbert Hoover campaigned for the presidency promising “a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.” How innocent this statement of national aspirations seems in the 1970s and how inappropriate it would seem to any aspirant to high office today. A nation which has been known, and criticized, for its materialistic values is now asking itself whether in fact the good life can be measured in terms of consumer goods, and those who presume to define the national goals increasingly speak of quality of life rather than of further material possessions. Quality of life is seldom...

  5. PART I

    • Introduction
      (pp. 21-22)

      As we have seen, the focus of our research in this volume is upon the sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that persons in our national sample say they draw from the several critical domains of their lives, such as their marriages, their jobs, and their housing. However, since this kind of investigation is relatively novel, most of the measurements involved must be exploratory. In such a situation, it is important that we pay attention to the meaning that can reasonably be attributed to what people say. Can these reports of satisfaction be taken at face value, or are there limits...

    • Chapter 2 The General Sense of Well-Being
      (pp. 23-60)

      While our main focus in this volume will be upon expressions of satisfaction with specific domains of life experience, we have a natural interest in the way such specific satisfactions may cumulate to produce more global feelings of satisfaction with life or some general sense of well-being. As we have noted, our study contained a number of measures aimed at such overall assessments. Some of these measures have been drawn from earlier studies, and hence provide some time perspective on the way in which population samples tend to respond to such items. Other measures, including some on which we will...

    • Chapter 3 Domains of Life Experience
      (pp. 61-96)

      Global measures of the experienced “goodness of life” have a great deal of interest in and of themselves. However, we do not know at this stage how adept people are in stepping back from the specifics of their everyday experiences to make an overall evaluation of their lives. Perhaps the low apparent reliabilities of these measurements stem in part from the fact that “life as a whole” is a concept of such breadth that few people are accustomed to thinking of their situations in such a way. Moreover, the utility of global assessments is somewhat limited, unless they are fleshed...

    • Chapter 4 Bias in Measurement
      (pp. 97-134)

      One simple way of summarizing the ground we have covered to this point, in reviewing the many forms of measurement our study was intended to explore, is to observe that we are seeing a good deal of reality in these data, but we are seeing it “as through a glass darkly.”

      The reality is apparent enough. Over and over again we have encountered differences in the data which fit our commonsense expectations, thereby bolstering confidence that our efforts to measure subjective states bearing on the quality of life can lay claim to substantial validity. These glints of reality have been...

    • Chapter 5 Some General Influences on Reports of Satisfaction
      (pp. 135-170)

      The preceding chapter raised a number of questions about details of the performance of our domain satisfaction measures. Why is it, for example, that poorly educated people tend to express more contentment in their summary statements of satisfaction with particular domains of their lives than would be expected given their relatively critical, or “realistic” assessments of specific features of the very same domains? Why do most of the domain satisfactions, when arrayed by education, show the same faint negative slope and more or less the same irregularities? What is the meaning of the rather substantial impact of age differences on...

    • Chapter 6 Satisfaction, Aspirations, and Expectations
      (pp. 171-210)

      If we were able to emerge on an English moor or country marketplace of the eleventh century equipped with a modern interview schedule bearing on the quality of life, it seems unlikely that our serf and yeoman respondents would in any great numbers answer to our adjective checklist that life was “nasty,” “brutish,” or “short.” Human life at the time was not short, for example, relative to anything in the collective memory apart from implausible reference points like great oaks or some kinds of turtles. More strictly, human alternatives made available to us from intervening history now make us feel...

  6. PART II

    • Introduction
      (pp. 213-216)

      Toward the close of Part I we showed that statements of satisfaction with various domains seem to be produced by a sense of gap between the perceived realities of the individual’s current situation and his aspirations concerning the domain. Where the understanding of aspiration levels is concerned, we were able to conduct an initial inquiry into some of the standards of comparison created by past experience and social comparison that seem to be important determinants of these hopes. In Part II we shall turn our attention to the impact of perceived realities of the existing situation upon these statements of...

    • Chapter 7 The Residential Environment
      (pp. 217-266)

      The environment within which we live may be described in many different terms. When a person is asked to evaluate the world around him he may respond in terms of its natural beauty, its physical configuration, its man-made artifacts, its social characteristics, its economic opportunities, or its political functioning. In our approach to the external domains of life we chose to divide the surrounding environment into concentric areal circles: the nation, the community (city or county), the neighborhood, and the residence; and we assume that in varying degrees all of the frames of reference we have just noted came into...

    • Chapter 8 The Country as a Domain of Experience
      (pp. 267-286)

      The most extended, and, in some sense, the most remote of our residential domains is the country as a whole. When we think of the nation as a domain to be assessed, there are at least two obvious but different facets that might be explored as contributing to a sense of well-being.

      One of these involves satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the government of the nation. Our study was conducted in a period of troubles during which popular confidence in the national government had declined to a rather low ebb, and it would not be unreasonable to imagine that discomfort at...

    • Chapter 9 The Experience of Work
      (pp. 287-320)

      From the external domains of housing, community, and the country, we move now to the more personal domain of work. Productive work is a major domain of life to almost all adult Americans, both those who work for pay and those who work in the home. Except for persons still preparing themselves for a career or retired from a life of work, very few Americans are not in some degree involved in the world of work. Work is not only a virtually ubiquitous personal experience, it is also a domain of intense public concern, the subject of many corporate and...

    • Chapter 10 Marriage and Family Life
      (pp. 321-346)

      We began this series of chapters with consideration of those domains of life which are most impersonal, and we turn now to those private domains in which the individual is engaged in relationships of a more or less intimate character with spouse and family. We recognize the fact that either of these domains might have consumed our entire study and that the data we have to present are far more restricted than we would wish. In each domain, however, we have asked our respondents to place themselves on our standard satisfaction question, and in each case we are able to...

    • Chapter 11 Personal Resources and Personal Competence
      (pp. 347-388)

      In the past four chapters we have discussed determinants of satisfaction within the seven of our life domains for which our most detailed interview data were collected. The remaining domains which have figured in our predictions of individual differences in the general sense of well-being include health, education, financial situation, leisure time, and friendships.

      Our investment in these remaining domains was relatively abbreviated, where interview time was concerned. Typically, for each of these domains one or two detailed questions were asked with regard to the respondent’s factual situation, followed rapidly by the summary measure of satisfaction with that situation. Several...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 391-394)

      We come now to the point where we reorient our approach to the data from our study, setting aside our preoccupation with methodologies of measuring satisfactions and affective states and with our attempt to account for their variances, and turn to the description of the life experiences of different segments of the population. To be sure, we have touched on numerous examples of such data in the preceding chapters, pointing out, for example, that college graduates are more positive about their lives than those who do not finish college or that homeowners are more satisfied with their housing than renters....

    • Chapter 12 The Situation of Women
      (pp. 395-442)

      Of the many dimensions along which American society might be divided, the two which intuitively appear to have the most compelling implications for the quality of life experience are sex and race. To an important degree, women and men grow up in different cultures, develop different expectations, learn different roles, and live different lives. The same may be said of the white and black races. No doubt these patterns are changing, and these differences may be diminishing as time passes, but it remains a fact of American life that the sexes and the races differ not only in their physiological...

    • Chapter 13 The Quality of Life Experience of Black People
      (pp. 443-470)

      There is a growing realization among social scientists of the need for social indicators on the life of the American minorities, not only blacks but Mexican-Americans, native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Orientals. The following quotation exemplifies this feeling:

      Although over the years there have been thousands of titles published on the subject of race relations in this country, social science has failed to provide the systematic monitoring of change in the social psychology of American Negroes which the importance of the problem would appear to justify (Campbell and Converse, 1972, p. 14).

      The purpose of this chapter is limited specifically...

    • Chapter 14 The Perceived Quality of Life and Its Implications
      (pp. 471-508)

      In a real sense this volume has been premature. Our study of the perceived quality of life was designed at its very core to be repeated over time. Hence an exposition of static results from no more than a single slice of time sits uncomfortably beside the true purposes of the investigation.

      To be sure, certain basic questions underlying the inquiry could be answered to a fair approximation even within the compass of a single study. We began, for example, with a rudimentary curiosity as to whether global feelings of well-being about life, which had begun to receive investigation in...

  8. Appendices

    • Appendix A Sample Design and Characteristics
      (pp. 511-518)
    • Appendix B The Questionnaire
      (pp. 519-564)
  9. References
    (pp. 565-572)
  10. Index
    (pp. 573-583)