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 471.

    Well I never, people with fewer stressors in life tend to be happier. Presumably in a follow up study the toilet habits of bears and popes religion will be addressed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    So people are happiest with marriage, jobs and being fiancially secure.

    The government could:
    Spend money in order to increase jobs available
    Make marriage available to the gay community
    Stop landlords exploiting people or build more council estates

    Anyone know what's happening about these issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    As no two people will have the same internal scale, this is essentially meaningless.

    I may call myself a 6, but compared to someone else who called themselves a 6, I could easily be a 9. And that works how?

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    I think people would be happier if we weren't all pitted against each other like a bunch of savage dogs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Ignorance is Bliss?
    Seems to me there are many on here subscribe too this belief.I would rather see the Majority happy rather than being caught up in the politically deluded world we live on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    All you need to be happy is any/all of the following
    Love of a good man/woman
    Good friends
    Bag of Pot
    The music you like

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    Cameron & Co are really the biggest waste of space ever. Exactly how much did this useless survey cost, they are like kids with too much pocket money in a sweet shop, this money would be better spent on nurses doctors refuse men etc, the sooner we have politicians with a real knowledge of working lives instead of these useless career opportunist idiots the better. Useless and yet more useless

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    Life without ups and downs is not life at all, it's mere existence.
    Happiness happens while you're looking for it. It lies between the sad or mundane bits, and that them just as valuable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    Sex and drugs and Rock 'n Roll.

    ''Happiness, happiness, the sweetest thing that I posses''

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    I am an immigrant,
    I DO NOT work
    I claim benefits, have a 4 bedroom house paid for by the council and
    I also claim child benefits.....and to be honest with you...

    I AM REALLY HAPPY...dont know why people complaint...life is there to be enjoyed...so chillax!!

    * only joking- I dont claim child benefits

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    im happy, rural norfolk house (paid for) cars, loving wife and family, not happy that infrastructure is going to turn rural into a london suburb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Having spent some time in the Peterhead area of Scotland during the winter months I know that this survey is nonsense. Horizontal rain in fog, rubbish beer, high unemployment and a sad populaion, is not a recipe for happiness. (Notice I did not mention the Klondykers).

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    Happiness = 1. Owning my flat - paid off the small mortgage years ago on v modest earnings. 2 Living alone - bliss for me tho not for everyone. 3 Working part time in a low paid stress-free job, giving me lots of free time. 4. Having great friends. 5. Making a little go a very long & enjoyable way. Everyone should experience some tough times as it really makes you appreciate the good ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    I always thought that way until I retired, then I realised that all those years of saving and buying our own home etc,going without holidays meant that I cannot get help with anything unlike someone who spent all their money and lived in a council house,went on holidays abroad, and if I or my wife ever needs care we would have to sell up and pay for it, if I had my time again I wouldnt bother.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    also think the whole idea of wife kids a house and a nice car has been ingrained in many of us from day 1. Some people try at it too hard, get the wrong idea and end up unhappy. Saying that though, i am a product of the above scenario and it definitely works for a lot of people

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    Happiness......just walking and talking through open fields for hours on end with my wife. Doesn't matter if it's sunny, windy, raining or snowy, she's the one that makes me happy. When I can do this whenever I choose instead of once a week I will be a truly happy man :-) For now, I'm moderately happy :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    To me, happiness is the sun on your face, a glass of wine in your hand and the babble of chatter with good friends and family.

    I am lucky to have this for a couple of weeks a year. So I go for the 2nd best: freedom to walk, fish, camp, row... oh, we don't get those!

    So I settle for clean air in my lungs and... darn it, don't get that either. I get male tree pollen (man-made problem) and diesel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    satisfaction equals happiness? overcoming obstacles can make one happy/having everything you thought you wanted does not always/ Having a hunger can make your life interesting which in turn may make you a happier person. Being happy is a fleeting emotion, being satisfied maybe equates to contentment? or smugness/Smugness I equate with our government. and that make me angry

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    I am cross that politicians have attacked this as a waste of money. I have just taken part in this very survey, it is simply a couple of questions tacked on to the regular household wealth survey done by ONS, something they repeat every couple of years. I gave a nine by the way :) officially I live below the poverty line, happiness is internal, something you have to nurture in your heart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    "The key to happiness is not getting wound up over things that are not in your control."

    I hear this a lot, usually from people who have just made it a lot harder to do something. I guess their incompetence counts as something I can't control, but it doesn't really make me feel any better knowing that.


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