I have previously noted that there is a tendency for many different well-being indicators to tell similar stories in international comparisons. The most obvious reason for this is that well-being is related to socio-economic circumstances. People who live in countries with relatively high average incomes could be expected to have good housing, better health outcomes, greater life satisfaction etc.
It would seem reasonable to expect a similar pattern at a regional level within countries. Regions that have a high rating on an indicator, such as subjective well-being, might also be expected to have a fairly high rating on a range of factors that are known to be related to well-being.
There is an excellent facility in Victoria (Australia) to test whether this is the case. The site, known as Community Indicators Victoria, enables visitors to look at relationships between a large number of variables across local government areas (LGAs). I used the double data map facility to examine the relationship between subjective well-being (SWB) and a range of variables that I thought might reasonably be expected to be correlated with SWB. The SWB measure used is the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index combines satisfaction with life as a whole and satisfaction with various domains of life (standard of living, health, achievements in life, community connection, personal relationships, safety and future security).
The relationship with some relevant variables was strongly positive, as I had expected. The LGAs with higher average SWB also tend to have higher ratings in terms of: satisfaction with being part of the community, social support (ability to get help from friends), citizen engagement (e.g. attending town meetings, writing to politicians), safety (e.g. feeling safe walking in the local area at night) and volunteering.
However, the relationship with some other relevant variables was negative. These included household income (Census data), food security, satisfaction with work-life balance and acceptance of diverse cultures.
The explanation seems to lie mainly in differences between rural LGAs and those in Melbourne or close to it. The LGAs with highest average SWB tend to be rural. There seems to be an association between high average SWB and the relatively strong community networks in the rural LGAs. The variables for which a negative relationship was observed, such as household income, tend to have higher values in Melbourne and in LGAs close to Melbourne.
When I was growing up in country Victoria the people where I lived used to say that Melbourne might be a nice place to visit, but they wouldn’t want to live there. They were smiling but they weren't joking. People who live in rural area seem to be highly satisfied with their lifestyles. Perhaps an ideal lifestyle can only be obtained by earning a big-city income and living in the country.
A report prepared a few years ago by Bob Cummins et al, looking at SWB by statistical sub-division (SSD) over Australia as a whole, indicates that the SSDs with the highest levels of subjective wellbeing were all rural and those with the lowest subjective wellbeing were all inner-city. The authors noted that subjective wellbeing is generally lower in cities with more than 40,000 inhabitants and that the most important domain driving this is connection to community.