||A measure of social well-being in a defined territory, referring to either a broad concept or a specific condition â€” such as health status.
The social indicator movement developed during the 1960s, initially in the USA, in response to growing concern over a wide range of social problems: it was argued that governments should collect and publish social indicators to chart trends in society\'s social health, alongside well-established economic indicators. Within this movement, geographers argued that territorial social indicators should be developed, so that spatial variations and trends in the country\'s well-being could be assessed and, if necessary, policies developed to counter identified disparities.
Although an earlier paper by Lewis (1968) extended the related concept of a \'level of living\' index developed by rural sociologists, the seminal geographical work was by Smith (1973), who selected seven sets of indicators to represent different aspects of social well-being: income, wealth and employment; the living environment, including housing; physical and mental health; education; social order; social belonging; and recreation and leisure. Available quantitative indicators were analysed using principal components analysis to identify the extent and nature of spatial variations across States, across metropolitan areas, and across residential areas within cities. Similar work was reported for England and Wales by Knox (1975) and later studies investigated spatial variations at a variety of scales (e.g. Coates, Johnston and Knox, 1977; Smith, 1977, 1979).
Although the approach has been subject to a number of criticisms, on the selection and nature of the data and the problems of the ecological fallacy in spatial analyses, for example, the case for mapping spatial variations in social welfare has been widely accepted as a desirable monitoring tool â€” as indicated by the British \'booming towns studies\' (Green and Champion, 1991). A wider range of variables has been incorporated in later studies, including subjective perceptions of the quality of life (Rogerson et al., 1989).
The social indicators movement has substantially fulfilled its original mission (it has its own literature, including the journal Quantitative Social Indicators) and the case for territorial disaggregation has also largely been accepted: mapping spatial variations in social well-being is now a standard activity and attention increasingly focuses on understanding their causes and consequences (as in Herbert and Smith, 1989) as well as developing a rigorous theoretical framework for understanding spatial variations in welfare (cf. welfare geography).Â (RJJ)
References and Suggested Reading Coates, B.E., Johns ton, R.J. and Knox, P.L. 1977: Geography and inequality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Â Green, A.E. and Champion, A.G. 1991: The \'Booming Towns\' studies: methodological issues. Environment and Planning A 23: 1393-408.Â Herbert, D.T. and Smith, D.M., eds, 1989: Social problems and the city: new perspectives, 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Â Knox, P.L. 1975: Social well-being: a spatial perspective. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.Â Lewis, G.M. 1968: Levels of living in the north-eastern United States c.1960: a new approach to regional geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 45: 11-37.Â Rogerson, R.J., Findlay, A.M., Morris, A.S. and Coombes, M.G. 1989: Indicators of quality of life: some methodological issues. Environment and Planning A 21: 1655-66.Â Smith, D.M. 1973: A geography of social well-being in the United States. New York: McGraw-Hill.Â Smith, D.M. 1977: Human geography: a welfare approach. London: Edward Arnold.Â Smith, D.M. 1979: Where the grass is greener: living in an unequal world. London: Penguin.