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 431.

    We’re running a festival on this topic at Dartington in Devon in October: Interrogate: Happiness http://www.dartington.org/interrogate. Ahead of it we’ve been posing the question ‘What makes you happy?’ and the results have ranged from cheese to sunshine to helping others. Interested in what makes you people happy – let us know on Facebook.com/interrogatefestival

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    401. "This is the most popular comment. But now imagine it being said by David Cameron. You'd all be spitting blood as how patronising, simplistic and moralising he was being."

    Of course. It'd be like someone saying "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" while kicking you in the shins, or telling you that possessions are not vital to happiness and then setting fire to your house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    a sense of humour always helps!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    It is up to us - you can choose happiness - or not.

    Some of the richest, most powerful people in the world are miserable - some of the poorest who have suffered for years are joyful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    When you're at death's door - then you realise what you should be happy for.

    It's not the material things in life, the extra hours spent in the office, doing better than the Jones'.

    It's the simple things in life, the relationships, self-worth, and the QUANTITY of time spent with loved ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    Politcs at work,politics at home.I hate bosses spewing garbage that is obviously not the best way.Politicians are everywhere,lying and Toading their way through life.ME ME ME politics and it aint the politics of us us us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    My all too brief moments of happiness are when I have clarity and peace of mind.....and not suffering the endless negative self-talk and rumination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    I love it. David Cameron said it's "crucial to find out what Goverment can do to really improve our lives". What a joke... I thought it was Government's job to stay out of our lives and allow us to lead happy and private lives, oh wait this is England in 2012, my mistake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    "390.Some Lingering Fog
    Recipe for happiness:

    "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

    Recipe for disaster: Someone else decides utility and fuel bills rise, but income doesn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    When will people learn that subjective questions are not scientific?

    So much money is thrown to these people when there are real diseases in need of funding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    It's the little things. I've stopped buying products of brands that annoy me. I'm losing weight, I feel good. I can't stand adverts and violent tv shows any more, so I'm not parked in front of the tv. I've started to have a life. Taking control, cutting out the c**p, yes, it's within reach of us all. Sticking it to the big guys brings happiness in more ways than one. Less is more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    406. "What's the point in a 24x7 lifestyle when it doesn't make life happier."

    Convenience and flexibility.

    I don't think these things make people UNhappy. I like being able to order a hilarious T-shirt at 3am when I'm drunk enough not to worry about the price.

    I think Shetland has the advantage that people can see the value of their labour in their community. Most of us can't say that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    I live in West Berkshire, I have been married for 15 years, My husband and I both work (me part time) We own most of our home (the building society still owns the front door) I have 2 kids, 6 chickens and a decrepid hamster.

    I am happy. I never said I wasn't but at least if I ever start thinking the grass is greener I will know it isn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    "If things aren't great for you now, rest assured things will get better and look forward to better times ahead."

    How are things going to get better with all these government divide and conquer proposals to try and vilify and persecute the most vulnerable people in society through driscriminative policies and by influencing public opinion to accept the legislation and cuts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    Happiness. I remember that

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    If work makes us happy, why has nobody on their deathbed ever uttered: "I wish I had spent more time at the office."

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    This isn’t a bad place to live and I'm happy enough.

    I’m not starving in a third world country or dodging bullets in a war zone; I’m not in debt; I’m retired and mortgage free; I have a lovely husband, a brilliant son and daughter-in-law and the most gorgeous grand-daughter to ever draw breath.

    What’s not to like? (...except our lying ratbag politicians!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    I'm very happy. I have a good job, a wife that I'm devoted to, a lovely daughter, my own home and a newish car. Is that what makes me happy? Well it doesn't hurt, but having grown up in relative poverty and known the flip side of life, I know just how lucky I am.
    Funnily enough I live in Durham, one of the lowest rated areas for happiness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    I'm single, live alone in east London and yet I'm not unhappy. People don't reflect enough on what they have and are always craving more. But the things we are chasing don't make us happy- we just get caught on a hedonic treadmill; constantly comparing yourself to others doesn't help either. Happiness is a state of mind, I think the Buddha had that sussed 2500 years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    How can people in Blackpool be least happy? Have they not heard of the sandcastle or something!?!


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