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 371.

    Interesting that people are happiest in the most hideously white areas.

    Eilean Siar, Orkney & Shetland
    82.88 That's not white mate it's frost!

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    338. Though I have material possessions eg books and a huge record/cd collection, own my own home and not far off 60, I dont feel happy at this time thanks to what Mankind is doing to the World. I was happier in the 60s and 70s when I had less. I suggest going back even further to the 50s and you will find people were happier - and they had less. Materialism is a drug.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    My secret to happiness is, low expectations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    Happiness like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You don't need lots of money to be happy. Just waking up and realising you are still alive does it for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    @ Sergoba. I was one of the people that was contacted on a regular basis regarding this research. I have often wondered who the 'people' are who are interviewed but I can say that I was more than happy with the research process :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    The key to contentment is to self-actualise. Sadly, however, self-actualisation of the masses is not deemed profitable.

  • Comment number 365.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Happiness is all a question of life balances both plus and minus. If the plus factor outweighs the minus factor then in theory one should be happy to the extent of the degree of tilt on the plus side.
    Nobody has 100% plus score of that you can be absolutely certain so count your blessings and try to be happy at least for today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    the office for national-statistics is full of idiots, they talk form their planet Uranus!! Time they "worked for a living"! they and their so-called superiors could never LIVE nor understand my Lifestyle, they live in cloud "Cukoo-land!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    356. The Bloke - "Interesting that people are happiest in the most hideously white areas."
    a) What's your point?
    b) What's so hideous about being white?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    It's true. I live just outside Rutland and am utterly miserable. Oh well, not long to go now before it's all over.

    I think it would be better to publish a National Stress Test, based on blood cortisone levels. This would give an objective measure for the success or failure of Government policy without the risk of dictating it.

    It's just what I think. But no one ever listens to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    I want to know what's going on in the Shetlands that's so amazing.

    -Well it is about the furthest point away from David Cameron while remaining in the UK and the furthest point from Alex Salmond while remaining in Scotland.

    Which might go some way to explaining it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    338. Jack : so sorry to hear your sad loss. I don't know you but hope that you can find happiness again. Sending you good wishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    Here is a question, how many of you when asked "hows it going?", will always say "good, hows thing for yourself?", regardless of how things actually are, either to avoid sympathy, or a long drawn out conversation. You can not measure happiness by asking people, you need to drill into the brain and measure hormone levels.... any volunteers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    Another useless survey.......
    "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."
    Well that parts right.
    Feel sorry for Rutland, if they were happy, they should have stay silent about it, Rutland will now become a concrete jungle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Interesting that people are happiest in the most hideously white areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    I'd be at my happiest if I were in the Western Isles, Orkney or Shetland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    The BBC's way of reporting this survey is interesting.

    Anglesey came 3rd highest in the entire UK, yet BBC Wales headline is "Welsh are most dissatisfied of (sic) UK". Which is also totally incorrect as Swansea is above County Durham and Blackpool at the foot of the table.

    If the BBC get simple things like this wrong what chance is there for more important news being accurately reported?

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    Yet another survey making conclusions. Is it just possible that the happy people, the ones who own the houses, are happy because they work hard and are rewarded for it by being able to afford a mortgage. Making good use of your time is one of the best mood lifters, so if you're sitting at home, unemployed and unable to buy your own property........ Just a different perspective on the findings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    I'm confused as to why the link to this article was enititled "Survery reveals key to happiness." As if we can all become Indian reisdents of the Shetland Islands. Not a very informative survey in my opinion. The range of percentages don't seem significant and the criteria is too limited. I'm not convinced that ethnic background and the area you live are the most prominent factors in play here.


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