General English


  • noun money paid by the government to people who need it

Health Economics

  • (written as Welfare)

    The quality that is taken by economists to indicate the well-being of individuals, of a society or of the arrangements (or changes in them) that a society adopts. It is usually measured as an index. Higher levels of welfare are inherently better for that individual or society - as judged by the economist constructing or using the index. Economists, philosophers, sociologists and psychologists differ among themselves as to what constitutes a higher level of welfare and on whether useful empirical measurements of welfare can be made (construct validity). Economists most frequently use per capita GDP (gross domestic product) as the index of well-being. Some modify this welfare index with allowance for unpaid activity within households (which GDP excludes) or for environmental and related effects (which GDP treats erroneously from a welfare viewpoint: GDP rises if there is an oil spill and resources need to be used to clean it up). Extra-welfarists believe that even with such modifications, GDP is inadequate since policy-makers invariably behave as though welfare involves much more than the mere satisfaction of wants through the consumption of goods and services.

    Other words sometimes used by economists for welfare include util- ity and satisfaction. These alternatives are often used, however, without any implication that an individual or society is 'really' better off by having a higher level of either utility or satisfaction. They merely denote that the chooser (the individual or society) has as a goal a higher level of the index, and not necessarily that the economist endorses their goal as an ethically desirable one nor that this is the only or the ultimate goal. Sometimes all that is meant by a utility number is an order of preference; on other occasions it may imply something about a particular level of pain or pleasure, or even 'happiness' for the individual or society in question. According to these views the fundamental element in 'welfare' consists in the satisfaction of preferences. Despite its wide currency, this seems a pathetically inadequate and incomplete measure of either individual or societal welfare, particularly when one considers the unappealing (even disgusting) nature of some people's preferences.

    Some economists try to avoid the concept of welfare entirely and, indeed, deny that the concept of welfare is meaningful. Such economists are broadly in the logical positivism school. Since health economics is largely inseparable from policy issues, in which questions deemed 'metaphysical' by analysts in the positivist tradition are central, those who dodge the welfare implications of economic policies are severely limited in their ability to contribute to health economics.


  • noun the state of being well cared for


  • noun good health, good living conditions


  • noun the health, comfort and safety of a person, animal, or group