United Kingdom

Latest ONS wellbeing release reveals differences in wellbeing across age groups

June 2018

Older Brits (aged 75 and over) feel more satisfied with their social and financial lives than any other age group, despite suffering from more health problems, new data has revealed.

Overall, Brits in the older age group reported higher satisfaction levels with financial wellness, leisure time and relationships. Those in their early to middle years (25-54) are more likely to be in work, although they experience less satisfaction with their leisure time, while young people (16-24) are statistically more likely to be physically active and report better health.

The data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) forms part of the ONS annual Measuring of National Well-being (MNW) programme which reports on progress across ten areas including health, relationships (having someone to rely on), natural environment, personal finances and crime.

The programme was set up eight years ago to provide a reliable picture of the overall wellbeing of the UK through accurate and trusted data. Previously, the programme focused on key statistics across the UK population as a whole, but this year, for the first time, in an attempt to bring the programme in line with their ‘leave no one behind’ ethos, the ONS analysis has looked at age demographics across the UK to better understand wellbeing differences across age groups.

Objective data (e.g. unemployment rate) and subjective data (e.g. job satisfaction) taken from a variety of sources including household surveys are analysed to provide what the ONS say is a ‘more complete view’ of the nation’s progress than economic measures such as gross domestic product (GDP).

While younger people between 16 and 24 reported higher levels of satisfaction with their overall health, they were also more likely to experience unemployment and loneliness. And despite older people’s overall satisfaction with their financial circumstances and ability to contribute to their communities, they tended to suffer from poor health and reported lower engagement in art or cultural activities.

Charles Alberts, head of health management at Aon said the aggregate differences in wellbeing outcomes were not surprising as young people are more likely to be more physically active but more likely to struggle financially while those of working age are more likely to be economically active but have less leisure time.

“We do however, need to be careful of generalisation as there are outliers in each of these categories,” he said. “And we should not overlook those who are most vulnerable in society.”

The ONS research, Alberts added, would be particularly useful for workplace wellbeing practices, particularly as employers need to consider how their employees’ health and wellbeing requirements differ by age groups. But Alberts warned there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to wellbeing benefits.

“So while there is benefit in targeting interventions at certain categories of employees, as we’re all different, we should remember that as far as possible, workplace wellbeing interventions should be made available equally to all employees,” he said.

Commenting on the latest ONS programme update, Silvia Manclossi, head of quality of life team at the ONS said there was ‘growing recognition’ that how the nation is doing is ‘at least as much about people’s wellbeing as it is about the country’s economic health’. She commented: “[The] analysis shows the strengths and challenges of different age groups in society. These insights can help target services where they are most needed and can have the best impact”.

The research also found:

  • Age groups at both ends of the scale (those between 16 to 19 and those aged 65 and over) reported higher levels of life satisfaction than other groups
  • Happiness ratings were higher among those aged between 65 and 84
  • Those aged between 25 to 34 experienced the lowest levels of household income satisfaction across all age groups (34 per cent).

Summing up, Alberts said: “Overall, these results show a relatively positive trend for the wellbeing of the UK plc. However, two areas have deteriorated over the long-term – having someone to rely on and job satisfaction. It’s therefore worth considering what impact the workplace may have in these areas and what can be done to improve the wellbeing of employees. Greater work/life balance may give employees better opportunities to form quality long-term relationships outside of work and we should invest in understanding the factors that impact job satisfaction (such as job design, control, autonomy, flexibility and relationships).”

He added: “We know from our own research that employee engagement and retention have risen to the top of HR’s priority list and this latest research backs up the imperative to tackle the issue head on.”


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