ONS well-being report reveals UK's happiness ratings

Woman smiling Critics have questioned whether well-being can be measured

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People who are married, have jobs and own their own homes are the most likely to be satisfied with their lives, the first national well-being survey says.

The Office for National Statistics data also suggests people in Wales and England are less satisfied than people in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Teenagers and those above retirement age are the happiest, the ONS suggests.

The survey is an effort to produce an alternative measure of national performance to Gross Domestic Product.

Prime Minister David Cameron has described it as crucial to finding out what the government can do to "really improve lives" - but Labour ridiculed the survey as a "statement of the bleeding obvious".

Three quarters of people aged 16 and over in the UK rated their overall "life satisfaction" as seven or more, with women more likely to report higher levels of well-being and a sense that their life is "worthwhile" than men but also higher levels of anxiety.

England and Wales had similar proportion of adults giving a low rating for "life satisfaction" - 24.3% and 25.3% respectively.

There were fewer people with low life satisfaction in Scotland (22.6%) and Northern Ireland (21.6%) - and fewer Northern Irish people gave a high rating when asked if they were "anxious yesterday" than the rest of the UK.

There is a risk of jumping to conclusions with today's well-being figures. We know that people in rented accommodation report significantly lower levels of life satisfaction than home-owners. But that doesn't mean renting is bad for your happiness.

All we can say is that there may be something about the kind of people who rent their homes that makes it more likely they will have lower levels of well-being. Home-owners are generally financially better off than people who rent and they are more likely to be in a stable relationship - both factors that are also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction.

As well as needing to be careful about the difference between correlation and causation, there is also a danger of misreading the "direction of causation". For example, it is known that married people tend to be much more content than people who have been through a divorce. But does divorce make people unhappy or could it be that unhappy people are more likely to divorce?

As a general trend, people were the most satisfied with life in their teenage years and when they reached retirement age, with happiness levels dipping during middle age.

Those aged 16 to 19 and 65 to 79 reported satisfaction levels considerably higher than the UK average of 7.4 out of 10.

People living in built-up or former industrial areas, such as South Wales, the West Midlands or London, tended to be less happy, while rural areas, such as Orkney and Shetland, and Rutland, in the East Midlands, were the happiest.

When broken down by marital status, married people were the most satisfied with their lives, followed by cohabitees, then single people, widows/widowers and people who were divorced.

Being healthy was also an important factor but does not guarantee happiness, the survey suggests, with 18% of those who reported good or very good health reporting low satisfaction with life overall, while 38% of those with bad health reported high or medium levels of satisfaction with life.

Some 45% of unemployed people rated their "life satisfaction" as below 7 out of 10. Among employed people the figure was 20%.

The survey of 165,000 people between April 2011 and March 2012 also found that where people lived was a crucial factor in whether they were happy or not.

A higher proportion of adults who owned their own property, either outright or with a mortgage, reported a medium/high level of life satisfaction - about 80% - than those who rented or had other kinds of tenures (about 68%).

But factors such as noise levels, public transport, crime, whether they felt safe walking home alone after dark and access to parks and open spaces also had an influence on happiness levels, the survey found.

The ethnic group with the lowest satisfaction rating was "Black/African/Caribbean/Black British", with an average rating of 6.7 out of 10. The highest was "Indian", with 7.5 out of 10.

Average life satisfaction by ethnic group

  • Indian - 7.5
  • White - 7.4
  • Chinese - 7.4
  • Any other Asian background - 7.4
  • Pakistani - 7.2
  • Other ethnic group - 7.2
  • Arab - 7.1
  • Mixed ethnic - 7.1
  • Arab - 7.1
  • Black/African/Caribbean/Black British - 6.7

The scheme aims to provide a better understanding of how society is doing, and could help form future government policy.

ONS wellbeing project director Glenn Everett said: "By examining and analysing both objective statistics as well as subjective information, a more complete picture of national well-being can be formed.

"Understanding people's views of well-being is an important addition to existing official statistics and has potential uses in the policy making process and to aid other decision making."

But Labour said it did not take a well-being survey to know that Mr Cameron was "taking Britain in the wrong direction".

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher said: "This is a statement of the bleeding obvious, a waste of taxpayers' money and it makes ministers look even more out of touch.

"You don't need a 'happiness index' to know that people without a job are unhappier than people in work - and we have over a million young people unemployed."

Steve Davies, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, also questioned the survey's aims, saying: "The government may be able to broadly do some things at the aggregate level that will make people less likely to be miserable.

"But it seems to me that we have enough trouble with governments trying to target something like GDP which we understand quite well without them having to try and target aggregate well-being as well.

"So I actually think that this could be quite dangerous because it could lead to government interfering in all sorts of aspects of people's personal life and I wouldn't like to go there."

Map showing levels of happiness across the UK

Top five happiest areas in the UK

Ranking Area Happiness (Score 7-10)*

* - Percentages show how many people rated their happiness between 7 and 10


Eilean Siar, Orkney & Shetland












West Berkshire


Bottom 5 least happy areas in the UK

Ranking Happiness (Score 7-10)*

* - Percentages show how many people rated their happiness between 7 and 10


North Ayrshire



Blaenau Gwent






County Durham






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  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    For Pete's sake! I had both my partner and my Mum diagnosed with cancer (one prostate, the other bladder) within 6 weeks of each other! Am I sitting here, moaning on about not having this or that? No, funnily, I'm not! I have a roof over my head, a job, my family, who are doing well, now.......so I'm quite happy thank you! It's getting your priorities right and finding a balance that counts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    difficult thing to score in an algorithmic fashion, to be honest

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Born in Blackpool. Moved near Swansea. No wonder I'm depressed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The government has a part to play in setting the conditions that allow people to be happy and therefore it's useful to do this survey. However, in the end they can't compel people to be happy-the only person who can control how happy you are is yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    So the areas that have changed the least are the most happy generally.

    Rural Rutland, rural Shetland and rural Wiltshire have been the least touched by post war socialist social engineering projects and remain happiest.

    You draw your own conclusions and I'll draw mine but I think we all know what I'm saying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    The problem with us Brits is we spend far too much time being upset about what we haven't got. The latest smartphone, flat-screen TV, new car, bigger house, better job...

    All it takes is a change in attitude - find something in your life to be positive about. If things aren't great for you now, rest assured things will get better and look forward to better times ahead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.


    *sigh* You could just as easily say, surely, that it's common sense that single people will be happier because they can run around having sex with whoever they like; that money doesn't bring happiness; and that people like living in cities because there's lots of stuff to do.

    All sorts of wrong things have been common sense over the years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Maybe if the Tories stopped draining everybody's bank accounts (apart from those elites with the £23trn), there would be a bit more happiness.

    Then people would maybe stand a chance of not being laid off, be able to save up to get married, and put enough away to put down a deposit on a home......

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The major question is not the survey itself, but how much it cost in a time of supposed austerity.

    Wasting our money like that makes me unhappy, definitely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The map basically follows where unemployment is high! I am a single 30 something with a good job but zero percent chance of being able to afford a nice house!

    Hence why I am living in a tiny flat and seemingly worse off than someone on benefits with a free house in the same street as me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I'm as happy as a piggy in poo!

    I work hard,in a job that I love overlooking the sea, have a great partner, 7 lovely productive kids between us and a beautiful grandson. We walk, we talk, have regular dinners together.

    I'm far from wealthy in monetary terms, but I am the wealthiest person in the world in contentment and happiness. .. . . . . . . . When I think of my family, I can shut bad out

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I could not give an overall 'score' for how happy I am, it all depends on what I am considering.

    Very happy: husband, daughter, my websites, a good dinner, profession

    Very uhappy: the mismanagement of the UK, cold weather

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    "...have jobs and own their own homes were the most likely to be satisfied."

    Both of which are becoming harder and harder to acquire for most. I'd love to own my own home but alas I can't afford it on one average wage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Based on a "debate (that) generated 34,000 responses" - from a population of > 60 million? Why bother with this nonsense? However, it doesn't surprise me that people in Scotland are happier, we don't have Cameron & cronies in charge! Roll on Independence ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I would be happier if I felt the people in what are meant to be responsible jobs, Bankers, MPs, Newspaper Moguls etc were trustworthy and held to account when they fail and not simply raking it in with no regard for the consequences, of which there appear to be none!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    '' The Office for National Statistics data suggests people who are married, have jobs and own their own homes were the most likely to be satisfied. ''
    Well I never !

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Happiness is Outbound Terminal 4 at Heathrow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    A few days ago a survey said that the happiest place to be in England was on the coast, now this one is saying that the happiest place in England is in Rutland - about as far from the coast as you can get!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    No one's bothered to check this article, have they? First we're told that the 'data suggests people who are married, have jobs and own their own homes were the most likely to be satisfied', then we're told that 'teenagers... are the happiest'. How many teenagers own their own homes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Happirer when having a job? Not sure about that! No really, as one who's been unemployed for long periods previously it's difficult to convey the feelings of worthlessness & lack of direction it can instill.

    Home-owning? Well, yes, especially if out-right: near total financial freedom!

    And yes, the care-free nature & innocence of youth, or the wisdom of old age

    Not rocket science, really!


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