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 651.

    Happy? Is that today, or in general? Today I've lost at least £1000 in work because of a bizarre circumstance that's a direct consequence of the Olympics. On the bright side I'll be able to enjoy the sun, snooze in the morning, and have a few beers. So, on balance I'll be reasonably happy for the next two days or so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 650.

    Having travelled in India, the people often appear happier. Scratch the surface and the undeniable truth of mass starvation, poor health-care, exploitation, and incredible inequality mean that 99% would rather live in the UK. The only reason the UK isn't exactly the same is because the Tory party aren't always in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 649.

    Eh? I thought life was a picnic on benefits. Personally I've never been happy, well not since teen years, I kind of believe that it's no sign of health to be well adjusted to a sick world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 648.

    Many of you say that people are shallow and at fault for wanting the latest and greatest. Of course the economy depends on people wanting, and buying, the latest and greatest.
    I would love to see the link between happiness and money. I suspect there is a strong positive correlation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 647.

    As the famous 21st century philosopher Jessie J once said.."it's not about the money"......or going back further in time, the great Sir Terry Wogan said " It doesn't matter whether you are rich or poor as long as you have plenty of money"

  • rate this

    Comment number 646.

    Easy answer for Cameron. Ship all the disabled and those suffering from cancer to the Outer Hebrides and they will be over the moon. What a stupid survey by a stupid government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 645.

    It is argueably quite bizarre that the person who made me redundant and homeless is now on Justgiving.Com inviting donations to charities who support the unemployed and homeless. Perhaps the piece of scum responsible could have looked a bit closer to home instead of trying to impress the cute and gormless company secretaries with "his" false generousity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 644.

    I'm not sure ignorance is bliss. Understanding this universe is indifferent to me is comfort.

    I sent my soul through the invisible,
    some letter of that afterlife to spell
    and by and by my soul returned to me,
    and answered, "I myself am Heav'n and Hell"

  • rate this

    Comment number 643.

    Happiness lies within yourself. Not where you live; not whether you work or not; not how many friends and acquaintances you may have. If you have to look to what is beyond yourself you will never understand what happiness is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 642.

    Now that there are no jobs,no prospect of securing a home for so many people - we'll get the chance to witness just how happy people can be in poverty.

    Daft really, when the folk who have more money than they know what to do with spirit it away via a smorgasbord of scams in secretive jurisdictions so they don't have to pay their way.


  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    Another pointless poll. What a waste of money when so many important scientific studies go unfunded. Governments are surely the only people who take anything from such drivel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    Now Blackpool I can fully understand. I first went there as a 10 year old with an uncle and aunt. What a dump I thought. Since then I have been back twice...Once because of a job and the secound just to see IF it had improved any... NO! The name alone brings to mind a dank, smelly pool!

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    (639)Fuzzy that is so true..I am 39 I have everything in life that you could almost imagine, and have lived a life of luxury, my best friend from school is daft as a brush works for £6.50 an hour no girl friend, worst flat I have seen, in my eyes he has nothing, apart from he is so happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    I'd feel a smidge more contented if I knew just how crooked incompetent duplicitous and of course,unaccountable, a Minister would have to be before Dave finally says enough is enough - "I do not have full confidence in .....who now realises the gravity of their oversight/ mistake/ error of judgement etc ...it was a mutual decision as they had no confidence in me either".

    Yes,...that would be good

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    To be happy for an hour get drunk,to be happy for a year fall in love,to be happy for a lifetime take up gardening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    628.Alan T
    Totally agree with you there ! I seem to remember there was a time that adverts used only to be on at set times i.e roughly on the hour or roughly half past the hour . Now , they are putting them on at any time of the hour on the digital stations .As for Sky News , absolutely unwatchable , with all the adverts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    Well this is little surprise since the government and media have been pumping out this for forty years at least. Now all the council houses were sold cheap it means a life of misery for a great deal of the young?

  • rate this

    Comment number 634.

    My sister and I used to muse as to whether it's better to be intelligent and so aware of what's going on in the world or the village idiot sat on a five bar gate with a few flies buzzing around your head. Never did work it out. Happy days, or is that happy daze? Bzzzzz.

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    Having been through youth middle age & the rest with far more than the usual share of 'troubles', any who know me can verify I've been far happier than they. The answer is simple faith in God and our Lord Jesus Christ. You may mock saying I'm a religious nutter, but in truth any such just have never experienced this joy or happiness.
    The more you love Christ the happier you'll be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    Happiness is like a butterfly which when pursued will always just be beyond our grasp. If you sit down it may alight on you having sneaked through a door you forgot you'd left open.


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