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TO THE POINT
160301 Life satisfaction by region
  • Regional variations. This is my third consecutive To The Point post about the Office for National Statistics’ wellbeing numbers, so I’ll keep it brief. The above chart shows how people rate their own ‘life satisfaction’ out of ten; except instead of breaking it down by age group, as I did last Thursday, it does so by region.
  • London’s dissatisfaction. As in so many datasets, London distinguishes itself. Its occupants are the least satisfied of all the regions, with an average score of 7.5. Northern Ireland is well in the lead with its 7.9. And it’s not just life satisfaction either. London also has the lowest score for the ONS’s measure of worthwhileness, the second lowest score for happiness, and the highest score for anxiety. Northern Ireland has the highest scores for worthwhileness and happiness, and the third lowest for anxiety.
  • Housing… But why? The answer that sprang to my mind, as I sifted through these numbers yesterday, was money. London is typically thought of as a well-to-do region, and it is according to certain measures: the proportion of individuals living in households with less than 60 per cent of the average income is, at 15 per cent, one of the lowest in the country. But that is before housing costs are accounted for. As soon as they are, that proportion leaps to 27 per cent, the highest in the country. Could London’s merciless housing market be a cause of its misery?
  • …and other economic explanations. Of course, we should be careful not to make causes out of correlations, nor to ignore all the other causes that may be at play. But it’s telling that, in trying to explain these regional differences, the ONS also clings to money-related answers. “The North West was the English region that had the largest average improvements for life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness when comparing financial year ending 2015 and financial year ending 2014,” it observes in its report on the subject. “During 2015 there has been discussion about the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ proposal to boost economic growth in the North of England. It could be that this proposal has contributed to a feeling of optimism in the North West.”
  • The irony of the wellbeing measurements. The very reason why the ONS now collects so much data on wellbeing is because it wanted to construct a measure of our country’s worth beyond its GDP. This is a fine and important endeavour. And yet it’s difficult, for both them and us, to escape the idea that wellbeing is a function of pounds and pence – perhaps because it’s true.

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