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 671.

    A good hard look at some of the figures shows that some of the conclusions drawn are wrong; if teens and retirees are among the happiest, how can working make people happy? It isn't the job, but the pay, that gives a sense of well-being. If the money could be had without the work wouldn't that be the ideal? This is just an attempt to 'prove' that the govt aren't ruining our lives with their cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    wow people who are married, have a house ,and a job are happy. As apossed to single unemployed and homeless. Next we will be told that people who have a million pounds in the bank worry less than an unemployed persom. sometimes i wonder what planet i read things like this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 669.

    I'm so relieved to know that the Government have spent (no doubt millions) telling me what I already know, and could have told them for a small fee. It really does beggar belief that in this time of austerity that they can waste money like this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 668.

    I am very unhappy and will probably remain so until Dismal Dave and Gormless George are booted out of government.

    Until then I will have to endure the Upper Class Twit of the Year competition......

  • rate this

    Comment number 667.

    Can't wait to ditch England - then we'll be happy in Wales...

  • rate this

    Comment number 666.

    I'm supposed to be happy (according to the stats). This country has had so much going for it over the years - leaders in many fields - eg. science, arts, freedoms, education, opportunity etc. BUT The ongoing destruction of society, pride, professionalism, aspiration and tolerance of everything negative in society means I have just had enough. I've done my bit. I've paid my dues. Now I'm off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 665.

    It isn't pointless - the toffs are dipping their toe into the water to test the temperature of pleb revulsion - they don't want to end up being guillotined because they hadn't done any forward planning - this isn't summer holidays we're talking about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    Happiness is having a conscience, and a respect for life. Is it possible to be happy and vote Socialist on this basis?

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    Of course those in England and Wales are unhappy, we are the ones working ourselves to keep (hopefully soon to be independen) Scotland economically afloat!

  • rate this

    Comment number 662.

    As Happiness is Subjective and thus each individual on this "Paradise Island" has a different view on what makes them happy you cannot with all the will in the world expect to quantify this with a few meaningless statistics.

    Remember "There are Lies, There are Damned Lies and there are Statistics"

    What would have made me happy would have been using the money for this survey on the NHS instead

  • rate this

    Comment number 661.

    659.Cyber Tantric


    Drop the party political and make a serious, worthwhile and relevant comment - or just go away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    happiness is in travelling not arriving

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

    Happiness is having a conscience, and a respect for life. Is it possible to be happy and vote Tory on this basis?

  • rate this

    Comment number 658.

    At least now we know more than we did. labour said this survey was bleeding obvious to quote this article... We all would be much more happier with less austerity now if the countries debts had not been made so large by them when in power, which is bleeding obvious!

  • rate this

    Comment number 657.

    Another one of those "Get a Job" "Get a House" "get a Ball and Chain" surveys. More revealing is how many people without all three of those "Supposedly Happy Making" things are actually out there.

    Have we come to this? We must now be told what makes us happy?

    History is littered with examples of governments who dictate to others what is happy but in the end those examples are just full of pain

  • rate this

    Comment number 656.

    654.rob andrew
    Thats not fare. I live in Epsom, within the M25 but not classed as Greater London. I'm very happy, I dont't have any issues that make me unhappy. Of course I disagree with some government issues but in general I'm happy with my life. I don't think location determines happiness

  • rate this

    Comment number 655.

    all depends who your married to though!
    Yes Freud said the most man could hope for is ordainary unhappiness, with work and love at the core of it. So grumble on folks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 654.

    I'm not a social scientist - but my simple interpretation is that (apart from Rutland) - the farther you are from London - the happier you are. It might even be worth doing a sample of those who live on the Isle of Scilly - who might even be happier than those of us who live in Cornwall!

  • rate this

    Comment number 653.

    This survey is meaningless.Every life has happy and unhappy periods.A better question would be;What has a negative impact on your wellbeing--aspects which government and the collective society can change?

  • rate this

    Comment number 652.

    Happiness is relative. I cant explain it in 400 characters but I was once in a position where I could have died. I didnt, I'm grateful and happy. Just try to rate your unhappiness on a scale from one to ten when ten means imminent death and then see how happy you are. Bet you score less than five. Life's good!


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