ONS well-being report reveals UK's happiness ratings

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

Related Stories

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






More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    "that assumes happiness is derived from voicing the complaint not in having it acted upon"

    Possibly related aside: supposedly swearing can reduce pain felt, most effectively among those who don't swear often.

    Complaining can be cathartic, I suppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    So people who own their homes/ havejobs/married are happiest, but also teenagers and retired people are the happiest. Seems to be a conflict there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    "a BLESSING, if you obey the Commandments of the LORD your God.......and a CURSE, if you will not obey." Deuteronomy 11:27,28

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    Happiness is what you make of life - if you live without jealousy or envy that is a big start. Then lots of fresh and excercise. And the main one cut down on SOAPS and the BBC, you will be well on your way to a pleasing existence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    285.Doctor Bob
    "Perhaps it's because we can gripe and suggest ideas that might improve our lot"

    that assumes happiness is derived from voicing the complaint not in having it acted upon - since HYS is a speak but nothing will be done forum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    @94 spudeeelad
    "This is the stupidest thing i've ever read. Teenagers aren't happy
    Of course they are happy living this care free lifestyle, who wouldn't be?"

    I'm confused... Do you agree with the conclusions of the study or not? :-S

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    I would love to see where HYS posters rate in the 'Happiness' scale! I somehow don't think we are a particularly content bunch but maybe we just enjoy complaining.

    =>Perhaps it's because we can gripe and suggest ideas that might improve our lot that makes us happier than those who can't or won't complain. Complaining has allowed us to get a better life then we'd have otherwise

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.


    Obedience to God is the path of true happiness.

    Subservience is the mark of Beelzebub Luther!

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Why should the government care about our well-being? Being well makes us complacent and lazy. We need people that are constantly on their feet, fearing for their future and that of their loved ones. That’s the only way to keep a society going.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    It's hard to be happy if you are perpetually anxious about having enough money for the basics of life. I feel content with my life because I do not have to be anxious about money.
    But feeling "happy" is something more. It tends to bubble up as long as I have had enough sleep and the sun is shining when I wake up. And I feel even happier knowing I have an enjoyable piece of work on hand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    The headline is silly. You will always get unhappier people in cities as there is more stress, poverty, crime and general unhappiness. There are more cities in England and Wales than in Scotland and NI. Happiness has less to do with whether you are English or Scottish, more to do with the population density. Really, is it a surprise that people in the countryside are happier? A superfluous report.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Happiness is directly proportional to the number of sheep in said community

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    "People who are married, have jobs and own their own homes are the most likely to be satisfied with their lives"

    I'm fairly sure this piece of news hasn't come as a shock to 90% of readers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    Ignorance is bliss

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    263. The study I read suggest otherwise; people who have a firm religious conviction seem to be, on average, happier than people who do not. This was in a study that measured happiness based 50% of how the person rated their own happiness, and 50% on how their friends estimate it. I say this as an atheist and I don't dispute that being stuck with a religion you *don't* believe in probably sucks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    Happiness is just an illusion,
    Filled with sadness and confusion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    Honestly, the gov spent heaven-knows-how-much just to tell us what we can intuit ourselves. It also says there are therefore vast swathes of people unhappy in the UK.

    The way to real happiness,to make life worth living,is that you can hope for a brighter future.

    Politicians have made sure that's unlikely to happen soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    I have my health, food in my stomach and a roof over my head, everything beyond that is a bonus, Am I satisfied with my life, well I would like to explore more of my potential, so am I satisfied with my life? No, so how is being satisfied equivalent to being happy??

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Perversly I`m happy being miserable, else we would have nothing to talk about, imagine decent Politicians who get things right, Bankers doing jobs with conscience & safely managing risk, or newspapers reporting stories that matter without being underhand? There would be no cover ups and no one to catch out and if things were bad only yourself to blame! How dull would that make a night at the Pub !

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Whilst these happiness surveys are interesting, people should bear in mind that happiness doesn't just depend on one's environment. Studies of twins have shown that genetics influences around 1/3 to 1/2 of our reported happiness. Some people, unfortunately, are born less happy than others.


Page 20 of 34


More Politics stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.