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 351.

    So an affluent house owning married couple in leafy Rutland is happier ( on average) than a single divorcee living in rented accommodation in industrialised South Wales.

    Wow -they must have had some darn clever people working on this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    310 grillip

    "Oops, someone forgot the Isle of Man…"

    Oops, someone doesn't realise the IoM is not part of the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    "The survey is an effort to produce an alternative measure of national performance . . ."
    presumably so that they can tax us for it. . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    The more you avoid the pernicious effects of advertising, the less dissatisfied you may be. My son-in-law, an advertiser, tells me the 50s- 60s plus age group are very difficult to aim advertising at. I'm very content! Love and successful relationships outside SELF tend to help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Killer Boots Man (232) Should be happy. Problem is ALWAYS wants something. A few extra thousand a year, he'd be happy.

    My friend - you have health, a home, a family, and enough to eat. So look around you, and enjoy the fantastic fortune that is yours! You are already rich, in all the ways that matter. Buy a sandwich for a homeless person - then you will be even richer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.


    Is it Craggy Island ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    Last night I heard my neighbors were moaning their 'situation'.
    Their 'situation' is unmarried with 4 children and no jobs or qualifications. I should add that this moaning took place whilst they enjoyed a meal cooked on their new gas barbeque in the garden of their £225k three bed rented semi with 3 year old people carrier outside.
    Would appear they have a stalker too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    happiness is based on perspective. Therefore with over several million individual perspectives in this country alone, changing constantly, many of which will be unwilling to spare the time to even fill out whatever survey was sent around (i know i never saw one) these figures will never be truly representive, only a pretty picture to throw around the political table.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.


    I have no problem with you believing in what you wish to believe - that is your choice. It is when someone says "their" faith is right for another it doesn't sit well. So many faiths how can anyone be sure that theirs is right but by personal choice."Faith" demands faith not proof (proof = no faith) so no-one can say their "faith" is right for anyone but themself.

  • Comment number 342.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    I'm pretty happy most of the time, and have a yummy spouse, decent job and am well. I do still beat myself up for the things I haven't achieved (owning a house for example) but it doesn't permanently stop be being happy, just adds a chink to an otherwise smiley existence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    My happiness is inversely proportional to the number of people I cannot avoid. And I am happy to report that living where I do avoiding the PC, Bling Dizzies, Eastender Clones, City Suits, IPod Zombies, etc is easy as there are none. Instead I have little traffic, abundance of nature, the best coastline bar none with very little traffic. Where ? You must be joking........

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Not watching the doom & gloom News Channels is the key to feeling happier. Both BBC News and to a lesser extent Sky will nit pick every bad news story to it's complete limit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    I probably never need to work again. I can support myself on the pension. I will own my own home mortgage-free by next week. I have lots of toys. I am fairly well educated, I have lots of books.
    No, I am not happy.
    I just lost my lovely wife.
    With her I wold have been happy.
    Without her, life is just barely tolerable.
    Happiness is very dependent on personal circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    The Western Isles are peaceful and gorgeous, and the people are really friendly, with a strong sense of community. But for happiness you have to live in West London which has much better beer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

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

    =>Then his prize project was flawed. Eve's first decision was bad but led to a seriously powerful marketing gambit: if you want someone to want something, tell them they can't have it. The "forbidden fruit" effect. It's why young teens smoke and drink.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    I'm not wealthy, but I'm happy. I love my job and my partner although we have no intention of marrying, I love living in Manchester. I also love a good grumble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    Chuang Tzu wrote: 'I study what ordinary people do to find happiness, what they struggle for, rushing about apparently unable to stop. They say they are happy, but I am not happy and I am not unhappy either.' - I have no car, I rent a flat, I have no reliable job, no savings and no pension. This makes me sad, but studying science makes me happy. I would not swap the wonders I have seen for riches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    "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"

    OR that people with second homes in rural areas are happier than people who can't afford them. The countryside isn't all hovels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    TOW...... and I'd be happier!

    Toffs Out of Westminster! Lets get some working class folks in there, then we might see a bit more honesty... and transparency!

    That would make me happy, very happy


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