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 331.

    I'm happy.
    After decades of either hating where I lived, struggling financially or juggling full time work and providing support for an elderly parent I'm finally solvent,doing 1 full time job, got my own small home without being crippled by the mortgage.
    The threat of redundancy has also gone (for the time being at least).
    I like my job and now can get on with forwarding my career.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Happiness is 12 August 2012 - last day of Olympics

    Happiness is also a successful conviction in connection with news elsewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    I would argue that it's having money and not jobs that makes people happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Another waste of finite Government funds producing yet more meaningless statistics- wonder how many policemen could have been paid from the money spent on this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Happiness comes from within ! and the key to it ,is to "respect and like yourself " ! If you can do this , then you will always be happy, as you will always have someone who will care about you and your well being above all else (even if no one else does) i.e. yourself!

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Happiness, apparently, is being promoted to a peerage and fully supported by your fellow parliamentary peculators for aiding massive invasions of the privacy of the peasantry while arduously protecting your friends the pushers and thieving politicians from legal scrutiny. Isn't our government a wonderful pillar of probity and honesty?
    Yes, I know, "this comment was deleted..."

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    so we can see that rural parts of the country are more happier than major cities and industrial parts. That means the consumer society we have been chasing all these years of work, work , work , spend spend spend isnt doing us any good as money dont make us happy

    Living in a small village with friends and family, plenty of green areas to play football and countryside to run is all i need

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Giving all your time and money to other people, so they can really appreciate you in return :-) ha ha ha ha ha
    Christianity ha ha ha ha
    Marrying someone that's too ugly or stupid to betray you at the first opportunity ha ha ha
    Following the Bhuddist religion of not caring if everyone else is having a better time, making more money, driving a faster car, pulling more attractive women ha ha ha

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    "God created Adam & Eve perfectly holy and happy, but they chose to sin,"

    so god made a flawed product - it (they) did not do what he wanted? he sounds rather human to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    Chasing the latest must have gadget will ensure you'll always be unhappy because as soon as you got it it is already obsolete as the next improved one is entering the shops.
    Happiness should be about enjoying your life not the next big thing.
    My wealth is in my family and friends

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.


    The problem with statistics is that people tend to dispute statistics they don't like with their own, purely anecdotal experience, while deriding the ones that do seem right as "stating the bleeding obvious".

    We should expect at least 50% of statistics to reflect our experience anyway, because we don't live in Bizarroworld.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    The survey seems to say that "quality of life" is important and harks back to the 70s when the factors quoted were the norm. In those days you had a great life/family/work balance. You worked in order to live. Now you live to work so you can consume, then die.


  • rate this

    Comment number 319.


    God created Adam & Eve perfectly holy and happy, but they chose to sin, and we have all inherited their sinful natures. God wants us to obey Him, and thus be truly happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    People seem to think having items will make them happy...it's your soul that needs to be happy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    Yes. I am a happy dude, I have accomplished quite a bit in 2 years.

    Met The Saturdays girl group, passed my driving test 2 years ago, started martial arts and even became student of the quarter. And I'm just getting started.

    You make your own luck in this world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    This Office for National Statistics keeps popping up in the news lately. It sounds like one of the ministries in Orwell's 1984 to me.

    was it Twain or Disraeli that said "There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics" ?

    Either way, little of tangible value seems to emanate from the twaddle they promulgate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    odd way of calculating happiness in my view its variable no one is happy all the time the reverse is also true re being unhappy why some may be happy at any one time are as varied as the number of individual perceptions of being happy, it is variable on a daily if not hourly basis what makes someone happy for a while can make another person sad it is pointless happiness is the elusive butterfly

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    Happiness is a complete misunderstanding of the situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    When you see what goes on in other parts of the world we should be happy.

    Avoiding Eastenders is also of great benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    #289 Religion is the CURSE not ever the ANSWER to anything religion is the haven of the lonely and the desperate not the happy. Read the news


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