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 491.

    All roads/threads lead to MONEY.Since it is the problem?Why oh why do we have it in our World?The obvious answer is that it gives Bankers/Politicians and Corperate types something to do and make our lives as misearable as possible.While they line their pockets our lives are wrecked and so are your kids and their kids.Life goes on ehhhh.Money makes peoples life a misery.It rules us,lol,unreal!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    life is what you make it. its others around you that make it hard, bad, sad, and stop you from been who and what you want to be,black people feel the last as many people think you are a thug or a robber or getto and never give them the chance. its sad as im black and feel left out and stopped from getting anything simply because off non trust towards us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    Really?? this is a surprise, and there was me thinking that the happiest amongst our society would be poor, lonely and jobless when in fact it turns out that it is happily married, rich and in employment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    Triffic, non interventionist small tory govt. is doing a namby pamby nanny state tax payer funded survey.

    Reminds me of the companies who regard your call as so important they put you on hold for 20 mins before granting you an audience with a "customer experience consultant"
    Clots at the top could always venture out into paye land where people pay tax to subsidise banks and offshorers!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    "People who are married, have jobs and own their own homes are the most likely to be satisfied with their lives..."

    And they're just as likely not to be so... yeah... that statement is amazing, they managed to say so much yet say nothing at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    It looks like people who live away from big cities are happiest. Who would have thought that the ratrace was unpopular?! I know, amazing, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    Strange comments about "happiness" (undefinable notion anyway) from a prime minister who spends his time spreading misery. Why did these researchers want to cover this topic (apart from the money they got)? Was it to find out if the people of the UK are suffering enough yet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    Remove the need for money will make most people happy.

    Debt is one of the most stressful things in anyone's lives, not being able to pay the rent/mortgage and juggling with household bills is not the way to live, unfortunately our government accepts it is, and honestly believes over 6 million families agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    happiness is not biting off more than you can chew, if you do its your fault you just have to choke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    478. Ex Tory Voter

    "473.Name Number 6

    Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
    Oscar Wilde"

    And it's amazing how often the latter don't realize it ;-)
    Yeah I knew that post was leading with the chin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    If you are content with your life then you are normally happy, I see no point in striving for things I know I can't get, Im content with my job, my health is decent and thats the most important thing, even when I was chronically ill I counted my blessings I could walk talk see & hear so I learned to be content. I want & if only can be destructive. appreciate your health & be happy with life smile

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    When I no longer felt 'obliged' to prove myself to all and sundry; and least of all to myself, life became happier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    I can understand the wife bit (mine's lovely). No problems with the house-fine -we all need somewhere to potter about in but i really am struggling with the new/fairly new car addition to alot of people's happiness calculations. If i have the good fortune to have loved one's around me when it's my time to go, i genuinely hope that i am not thinking about my 4 year old VW golf.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    "473.Name Number 6

    Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
    Oscar Wilde"

    And it's amazing how often the latter don't realize it ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Happiness, and there seem a lot of you that are v.happy is worth a million pounds. So many get their perspectives all wrong. I really did actually take part in this survey & I am amazed at the amount of people who have 'made it'.
    I believe a few things help: don't work too hard, help everyone, be kind, stay interesting & don't worry about attaining shiny things definitely helps your life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    People with greener grass have to cut it more often and if my glass is glass half full it's your round.
    Don't worry, be happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    This is an extraordinarily silly survey with results that need to be contrasted with common sense. For example, would I REALLY be more likely to meet happy people if I moved a few yards across the county border from the seemingly contented and euphoric heights of north Wiltshire to that sink of despondency and depression south Oxfordshire? Of course not. It's a daft survey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    It's fairly well established that external factors play a minor role in ones sense of well-being...if you take the Buddhist approach, that is. Probably explains why the Indian ethnicity top the list!

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
    Oscar Wilde

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    What a cynical and insulting piece of propaganda.

    What makes unemployed people unhappy is the bullying from the banks and utility companies; punishments handed out by the job centre; the scapegoating in the media.

    Cameron is a psychopath. He thinks that humans are there to be used by companies to make a profit. He makes me puke


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