Black people 'least satisfied of UK population'

Woman holding the hands of two children People with children reported feeling their lives were more worthwhile than those without offspring

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Black and mixed-ethnic Britons are less satisfied with their lives on average than the UK population as a whole, a survey suggests.

Some 80,000 people across the UK, polled by the Office for National Statistics, produced an average life satisfaction rating of 7.4 out of 10.

But black Britons averaged 6.6, while mixed-ethnic Britons scored 6.9.

The survey, in April to September 2011, was part of the ONS's ongoing Measuring National Well-being Programme.

The average rating for life satisfaction was also lower than the national figure for those of Pakistani origin - 7 out of 10 - and Bangladeshis - 7.1.

The four questions posed by the survey also included one seeking ratings for people's overall happiness, with answers nationwide producing an average of 7.3 out of 10.

Again, black Britons reported the lowest level of happiness - 6.9 on average - followed by mixed-ethnic and Pakistani respondents, with both of those groups averaging 7 out of 10.

Indians, Chinese and people of other Asian backgrounds produced similar scores to the national average.

BBC home editor Mark Easton said: "The reasons for these results are not easy to pin down."

Possible factors were the "income, education or employment patterns within different ethnic groups" and "an element of discrimination or prejudice", he said.

"But equally it may that there are cultural differences in the way people respond to questions from pollsters," he added.

Happily married

The questions, included in ONS's annual population survey, were:

  • Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  • Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  • Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  • Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

People responded with ratings on a scale between 0 and 10, where 0 indicated "not at all" and 10 meant "completely".

If David Cameron is serious about using official well-being data to decide government policy, today he got some pointers as to where his priorities might lie.

I was particularly struck by the correlations between ethnicity and well-being.

Black Britons, it would appear, are significantly less satisfied with their lives than the general population.

People from mixed or multiple ethnic groups are also less satisfied with their lives, while those with Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage tend to say they are more anxious. The Indian population, while pretty similar in terms of other measures to the average, also indicates a slightly higher level of anxiety.

The reasons for these results are not easy to pin down.

They may be influenced by the income, education or employment patterns within different ethnic groups. There may be an element of discrimination or prejudice at play. Migration itself, particularly if someone is leaving family and friends, can be linked to stress and depression. But equally it may that there are cultural differences in the way people respond to questions from pollsters.

Nevertheless, it would seem that pushing up Britain's overall well-being score will require us to think hard about the life experience of minority ethnic groups.

Breaking down the responses nationally, Northern Ireland residents expressed the highest level of satisfaction - 7.6 - compared with 7.5 for Scotland and 7.4 for both England and Wales.

ONS also categorised the data by marital status and found married people were the most satisfied on average, with a score of 7.7 out of 10.

That compared with: 7.5 for people co-habiting with a partner; 7.3 for single people; 6.8 for widowed people; 6.6 for divorcees.

Meanwhile, people with children rated their lives as more worthwhile: parents of two children averaged 7.9 out of 10; those with one child scored 7.7; those with no offspring scored 7.6.

People reported higher levels of well-being at the ends of the age range - 16 to 19, and 65 to 79 - than those in their middle years, the research also found.

"Happiness is smile-shaped for decades," said our correspondent. "We tend to be relatively contented in our youth and become progressively grumpy into middle-age before recovering our sense of humour as our hair turns grey."

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) think tank said ONS research had to take into account respondents' income patterns, since other well-being studies had found "a clear link between happiness and earnings".

"Well-being measures give us a new understanding of the lives of different population groups, with black Britons and the unemployed, for example, having particularly low well-being," said NEF senior researcher Juliet Michaelson.

"The challenge now is to understand what is driving these considerable differences, but income data remains the missing piece of the puzzle."

Policy-making

The Measuring National Well-being programme was launched in November 2010.

Following public consultation on which measures to use to assess well-being, the ONS is due to publish its first full set of findings this July.

The programme aims to "provide a fuller understanding of how society is doing than economic measures, such as GDP", the ONS says.

"The ONS measurement programme is key to giving people a say in the areas affecting their lives - in health, employment, crime, education and skills."

The findings can then be considered by policy-makers to see how proposals would impact on people's well-being, the ONS suggests.

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