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 571.

    Well you could always watch/listen to the 'Laughing Policeman'.

    If that doesn't cause you to smile, there's no hope, where ever you live!


  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    Prime Minister David Cameron has described it as crucial to finding out what the government can do to "really improve lives" (said with patronising nodding head)

    Oh I think that 70% of English population can think of at least one or two things the PM can do to "really improve lives"

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    They obviously didn't survey Gordon Brown or there would have been a giant black cloud over Kirkcaldy on that map.

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    They afraid the athletes won't get their milk?

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    Happiness is the beeb burying the story that the government are taking the unions to court to stop the olympic strikes. Happiness for the politicos anyway, oh and the legal eagles. Wait a minute aren't they the same?

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    531 Way to go!!
    I couldn`t stop laughing for 5 minutes.
    Your post has made my day!
    I`m sure Aunty Beeb will disapprove!! (as I`m now happy!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    561.voice of reason

    "Is'nt a desire something that, by definition, is wished for?

    Maybe there are people who really really want something in life, but are most happiest if they never actually achieve it. Wow..."

    Yeah, like I said its complex, you know the people I'm talking about right? Those that love misery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    So whilst merkel fiddles and europe burns the BBC is debating a happiness index, probably not the best of time for this HYS! I wonder what the majority of Greeks, irish, Spanish and Portuguese would think of this. Whilst I applaud the idea of understanding what makes people happy, and to agree with Labour for once, it is stating the bleeding obvious!

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    Some years ago I was sat on a beach in Kauai watching the sun come up with my young daughter and wife in probably my happiest moment. A few days later 1/4m people were wiped out by a tsunami.

    Happiness is fleeting so enjoy it where you can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    #552 is marked minus 1.

    You miserable lot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.


    Is'nt a desire something that, by definition, is wished for?

    Maybe there are people who really really want something in life, but are most happiest if they never actually achieve it. Wow...

    Some people, and I am one of them, are afraid to do what is really necessary to realise their desires.

    And so we remain in that most familiar of territories - nice but unfulfilled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    people are most happy when left alone by all levels of goverment. that there not taxed to the point were there bleed and see something for all there efforts .and that there familys lifes are happy and well ,so why this survey is it just a feel good thing for the goverment .the money spent on this survey could have been better spent but then its easy for goverments to waste our money

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    Love the spin put on this by the Reporting Scotland news. They claimed that while the Northern Isles and the Hebrides were the happiest, the unhappiest were in "industrial South Wales", conveniently ignoring Blackpool and County Durham, and, of course, North Ayrshire, which is in Scotland...

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    Are we going to have THAT regulated by these governmental out of touch wide boys now?
    I would be much happier if government just left the citizen alone.
    I know what makes my family happy,and it ain`t government nor is it the BBC, that slavish government mouthpiece!
    Millions out of work, struggling and poor, BBC follow govt party line.
    Attacking press freedom instead of real problems!

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    The key to happiness also has to include a government that LISTENS to the majority and is seen to be HELPING not attacking it's people.

    This is why so many in the UK are unhappy right now.

    General Election anyone ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    So a spread of 6.7 to 7.5

    Doesn't tell us much at all does it?

    Like most such reports - a waste of money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    How do we measure happiness-is it enough money good health, lots of friends I don't really know! I consider family and friends the most important and aim lucky there. My health is a nightmare but we still have to get on with things or grow old and lonely as nobody likes a whinger. Most people are struggling with money matters and DC and pals make things a lot worse. Tell us how to measure iit

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    551.voice of reason

    "If you analyse human nature very carefully, it all boils down to generation and satisfaction of need.

    Even non-material things like relationships and kids, concepts like pride and self-respect are seated in desire. When we obtain them, we get "happiness"."

    What about people who are happy when their desires are not being fulfilled, some people are like that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    I like how teenagers and those post retirement are most happy....thats probably because they dont have to work anymore!! The bit in the middle is when you have to work like a dog paying bills....the big one being the mortgage!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

    Wise words!


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