Background: Meaning in life is a key indicator of subjective well-being and quality of life. Further developments in
understanding and enhancing the construct will depend inter alia on the sound measurement thereof. This study is
at the forefront of applying modern psychometric techniques to the Meaning in Life Questionnaire, a scale widely
used to assess meaning in life.
Method: The Rasch rating scale model was applied to the Presence and Search subscales of the Meaning in Life
Questionnaire using a sample of 601 adults from South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
Results: The Presence subscale was insensitive at high levels of presence of meaning while the majority of the
respondents fell in that range. Removal of item 9 (“My life has no clear purpose”) and collapsing the response categories
indicative of low and medium levels of the latent construct significantly improved the subscale’s targeting and fit to the
Rasch model, resulting in a subscale that exhibited differential item functioning on items 1 (“I understand my
life’s meaning”), 4 (“My life has a clear sense of purpose”), and 5 (“I have a good sense of what makes my life
meaningful”) for country, but none for gender, age group, or education level. The Search subscale yielded
disordered category threshold calibrations, but after collapsing some of the response categories representing
low and medium levels of the target construct, a subscale that demonstrated good fit to the Rasch model,
good targeting, and no differential item functioning resulted.
Conclusions: In terms of this particular scale, adaptation of the rating scale and removal of item 9 is recommended.
Country-level parameter estimates may be needed for items that exhibited differential item functioning. The study also
has significant implications for the theory, measurement, and practice of meaning in and quality of life in general.
Reasons for and the far-reaching implications of the insensitivity of the Presence subscale for high levels of presence of
meaning on, for example, the correlation between meaning in life and indicators of health are contemplated. Further
investigation of the construct’s nature and measurement, especially at high levels, is indicated