Is Life So Great in Britain?
The latest information from the ONS presents a multifaceted overview of the general satisfaction of Brits.
Recent data from the ONS, spanning from March 2020 to May 2023, has helped to build a picture of the general changes in ‘public well-being and loneliness’, beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey itself covered Great Britain, gathering millions of citizens’ opinions on a variety of topics, including loneliness, well-being, general life satisfaction as well as their concerns regarding social issues.
Results were also measured in accordance with age and gender, split into percentiles, ranging from 16-29, 30-49, 50-69 and finally, 70+.
General life-satisfaction, is our main focus, and was perhaps one of the most revealing pieces of data, providing a mean average of satisfaction by age-group and gender, from March 2020 until May 2023.
Satisfaction was measured on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 was “not at all” and 10 was “completely satisfied”.
Perhaps one of the most notable observations was that out of every age group, from March 2020 to May 2023, satisfaction has still dropped. However, it dropped the most in the months of January and February 2021 to 6.4/10. It is important to note that during this period the UK was in its third lockdown, which could be an important contributing factor. As of May 2023, there has been a minor increase from this period to 6.5/10. The most significant decrease from March 2020 to May 2023 was in fact in the 70+ group, decreasing from an average satisfaction level of 8.0/10, to 7.6/10, a 5% decrease.
However, it is important to note, that as of May 2023, despite the largest decrease, this age group (70+) remained the most satisfied in comparison to all others. In fact, this trend still held true in March 2020, at the beginning of the survey, and the pandemic.
As of May 2023, the most unsatisfied age-group was, in fact, 30-49 year olds. In March 2020, this group was still the most unsatisfied, at 6.8/10, tied with 18-29 year olds. However, they have now overtaken this younger group, with a 4.4% decrease in satisfaction, from 6.8/10 to 6.5/10.
Reasons behind a greater level of dissatisfaction within this age group (30-49 year olds) vary individually, yet there are some factors which could contribute to this:
Parenthood - This age group, for both men and women, encompasses a time when many begin to start families, with the ONS claiming that the average age of motherhood is 31 years-old. Whilst this process is often a time of happiness, it can also lead to increased stress, due to significant lifestyle changes. Adjusting to these changes, along with the associated demands, can impact overall satisfaction.
Financial Pressure - People within this age group may still be paying off mortgages or student loans, while also dealing with the costs associated with raising a family. Financial pressures can impact overall life satisfaction and happiness levels. Out of all the age groups, the cost of living crisis was identified as the most pressing concern at 95%, when ranking the most important issues currently faced by the UK.
Career Progression: Many individuals in their 30s and 40s are striving for career progression and may be in the midst of building their professional lives. This period can be demanding, competitive, and challenging, which may contribute to lower levels of satisfaction.
So what is this group (30-49) most concerned about?
The cost of living crisis, 95% were concerned about this recent development.
The NHS was the second greatest concern, with 86% expressing concerns about our healthcare.
The economy, another financial factor, was a concern for 71% of this age group.
Yet what about the happiest group, those over 70? It’s a surprising statistic in a society that often demonises aging and all that comes with it. Yet, this group was the most satisfied in March 2020, and has somehow managed to retain this position as of May 2023.
So why could this be? Of course, this is an age group where you are statistically more likely to suffer from health conditions related to aging.
However, there are some potential benefits of this phase of life that could possibly contribute to this greater sense of satisfaction:
Greater wealth - Age has been shown by the ONS to be a predictor of wealth. Whilst the ONS shows that wealth often peaks around 60-64, the reason it decreases after this age is due to people using “their wealth to support life in retirement.” With the end of working life, the stresses and pressure associated with a career also dissipate.
Change in perspective - According to Age UK, Harvard University sent an online test to 10,000 British people aged between 10 to 85. The participants were presented with a series of images consisting of faces showing happiness, anger and fear. The results suggest people over the age of 70 found it easier to detect happiness in others and were less aware of any negative emotions.
Greater fulfilment - People within this age group may have raised a family, who would have long left home. Many of their personal goals may have been reached. With greater financial freedom and more free time, this age group can enjoy their older years without a great deal of pressure. Of course, this is dependent on health.
So what was this group (70+) most concerned about?
The NHS - Unsurprisingly this was this groups’ greatest concern at 92%. Considering the vast health complications facing this demographic, this is a logical priority.
The cost of living crisis - Whilst this group is arguably generally more financially stable, this demographic has to use their money for retirement and they no longer have the stability of a regular salary. Thus, this is their second greatest concern at 86%
The economy - This is their third greatest concern at 74%. Having to manage their own money whilst often relying on savings and pensions means that there is still a financial pressure despite the alleviation of other stressors such as a career and raising children.
So what can we learn from this data?
This data offers valuable insights that challenge common perceptions about different age groups. Contrary to popular belief, old age doesn't necessarily equate to fear and dissatisfaction. The 70+ age group, in fact, reports higher levels of satisfaction and personal wealth, debunking stereotypes. Their contentment can be attributed to factors like financial security, a change in perspective, and a sense of fulfilment. It's no surprise that their primary concern revolves around the NHS, considering their increased reliance on healthcare services.
On the other hand, the 30-49 age group faces a range of challenges that contribute to lower levels of satisfaction. Their focus on the cost of living crisis highlights the immense impact of financial pressures on their well-being. Parenthood, financial responsibilities, and the demands of career progression all play a role in their overall dissatisfaction.
However, despite their differences, both age groups share common concerns. The state of the NHS is a pressing issue for both, underscoring the significance of accessible and high-quality healthcare throughout life. The 70+ age group's concern stems from their healthcare needs, while the 30-49 age group worries about healthcare for themselves and their families.
Additionally, both age groups express worries about the economy, albeit for different reasons. The 30-49 age group is worried about the overall state of the economy and its impact on their financial stability and future prospects. In contrast, the 70+ age group, even with potential financial stability, still grapples with managing retirement funds and navigating economic uncertainties in their later years.