Charting our satisfaction. How are you? The Office for National Statistics would like to know. As part of their continuous investigation into the nation’s wellbeing, which I outlined for Tuesday’s To The Point post, they ask people to rate their own lives according to several criteria. One of these is represented by the chart above. It shows the average scores out of 10, across the years 2012 to 2015, by age group, for ‘life satisfaction’.
The U-shape and beyond. The chart is a sort of U-shape up until the age of 75. The youngest age group that’s surveyed, those between 16 and 19 years old, give themselves a relatively high score of 7.85 for their life satisfaction. Then the scores decline more or less evenly until they bottom out at 7.21 among the 50 to 54 year-olds. And then they rise again to a new peak of 7.89 for the 70 to 74 year-olds. After that U-shape, it’s a constant decline into very old age.
Different measures, same results. When you notice the left-hand scale of the graph, and see all its numbers within the 7-point-something range, you might think that there’s nothing in it, really – we’re all basically as content as each other. But the thing is, the pattern repeats itself across the ONS’s other findings. The supplementary charts in this report show that middle-aged people also give themselves low scores for ‘feeling that what [they] do in life is worthwhile’ and for ‘happiness’, and a high score for ‘anxiety’. Whilst the oldest age groups also score particularly badly in the worthwhileness and happiness categories.
But why? The same report speculates as to the reasons for this. It could be a cohort effect: different generations have different attitudes born of different experiences. Or perhaps it’s more to do with socio-economics: “For example, those in their younger years and those who are retired may have more free time to spend on activities which promote their well-being. In contrast, those in their middle years may have more demands placed on their time and might struggle to balance work and family commitments.”
The policy implications. This raises some tricky questions for policymakers who don’t just want to monitor our wellbeing, but perhaps maximise it too. Are the ups and downs of the graph just life itself? Or can – and should – something be done to change them? It’s yet another set of demands arising from our country’s demographics.