Estimating the Reliability of Single-Item Life Satisfaction Measures: Results from Four National Panel Studies

Soc Indic Res. 2012 Feb 1;105(3):323-331. doi: 10.1007/s11205-011-9783-z. Epub 2011 Jan 13.


Life satisfaction is often assessed using single-item measures. However, estimating the reliability of these measures can be difficult because internal consistency coefficients cannot be calculated. Existing approaches use longitudinal data to isolate occasion-specific variance from variance that is either completely stable or variance that changes systematically over time. In these approaches, reliable occasion-specific variance is typically treated as measurement error, which would negatively bias reliability estimates. In the current studies, panel data and multivariate latent state-trait models are used to isolate reliable occasion-specific variance from random error and to estimate reliability for scores from single-item life satisfaction measures. Across four nationally representative panel studies with a combined sample size of over 68,000, reliability estimates increased by an average of 16% when the multivariate model was used instead of the more standard univariate longitudinal model.