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Measuring National Well-being: Our Relationships, 2015

Released: 12 February 2015 Download PDF

Abstract

This article focuses on people’s relationships with both family and friends. However, these relationships do not operate in isolation, and relationships within the wider community and the workplace are also analysed. The ONS Measuring National Well-being programme aims to produce accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation - how the UK as a whole is doing.

Introduction

Previous research has shown that the amount and quality of social connections with people around us are vitally important to an individual’s well-being and should be considered when making any assessment of National Well-being.

‘Social connections, including marriage, of course, but not limited to that, are among the most robust correlates of subjective well-being. People who have close friends and confidants, friendly neighbours and supportive co-workers are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem and problems with eating and sleeping’ (Helliwell and Putnam, 2004).

‘The frequency of contact with others and the quality of personal relationships are crucial determinants of people’s well-being’ (Kahneman and Krueger, 2006).

This article will further explore relationships with family, friends, relationships within the wider community and relationships within the workplace. It will also focus on our satisfaction with our social life, and loneliness.

Key points

Relationships with family

  • Just under a third (32%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK who were married or in a civil partnership rated their satisfaction with life as very high (9 to 10 out of 10) in 2013–14.

  • The average (mean) rating of family life given by adults aged 18 and over in the UK in 2011 was 8.2 out of 10.

  • Money worries were reported as the main factor that puts a strain on a relationship by 62% of people aged 16 and over in the UK in 2014.

  • In 2010/11, 87% of people in the UK reported that they had someone to rely on if they had a serious problem.

Relationships with friends

  • Over half (53%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK in 2011/12 reported that all their friends were of the same ethnic group. A third (33%) reported that all their friends were of a similar age while 39% reported their friends had a similar level of education.

  • Around 9 in 10 adults aged 16 and over in the UK in 2011/12 had one or more friends that they could confide in (93%), supported them (92%) or they could escape with/have fun with (90%).

Relationships within the community

  • Over half (55%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK agreed or strongly agreed that friendships and associations with other people in their community meant a lot to them.

  • In England in 2013–14, 85% of people aged 16 and over agreed that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together.

Relationships at work

  • Of adults aged 16 and over in the UK in full-time work, 62% were about as likely to have daily contact with their work colleagues than with their children.

  • Just under two-thirds (64%) of employees in the UK reported the relationship between themselves and their managers as good or very good, while 13% reported relations as poor or very poor.

Social life and loneliness

  • Adults aged 18 and over in the UK reported their average (mean) rating of satisfaction with their social life as 7.1 out of 10 in 2011.

  • In the UK in 2011, 36% of adults aged 18 and over wished they could spend more time with their family and 36% more time with their friends.

  • In April and June 2014, over half (53%) of people in Great Britain reported some feeling of loneliness (answers of 1 or more out of 10).

Relationships with family

‘Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important’ (Barack Obama, 2008).

Strong family relationships can give the support needed to make it through difficult times and, in turn may improve the well-being of all family members.

According to 2011 Census data, under half (47%) of all adults aged 16 and over in the UK were married or in a registered same-sex civil partnership, while 3% were separated (but still legally married). Just over a third (35%) were single (never married), 9% were divorced and 7% were widowed or their civil partner had died.

Figure 1: Legal marital status of population aged 16 and over for the UK and constituent countries, 2011 (1,2)

United Kingdom

Figure 1: Legal marital status of population aged 16 and over for the UK and constituent countries, 2011 (1,2)

Notes:

  1. Percentages in the category ‘In a registered same-sex civil partnership’ were very small for all four UK countries ranging from: 0.09 per cent (Northern Ireland) to 0.23 per cent (England).
  2. Census 2011 table DC1107EW, NISRA table DC1103NI and NRS table KS103SC were used to produce this chart.

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Figure 1 summarises the marital status patterns, for adults aged 16 and over, of the four UK countries. The proportions of single and married people varied little between the countries and almost half (45% to 48%) of the populations of all four countries were married. The proportions of the populations in civil partnerships were highest in England (0.2%). Northern Ireland had the highest proportion separated (4%) and the lowest proportion divorced (5%); by contrast, Wales had the lowest proportion separated (2%) and highest proportion divorced (10%). The proportion widowed varied little across the UK (between 7% in Northern Ireland and 8% in Wales).

Table 1: Life Satisfaction(1): by marital status, 2013–2014 (2)

United Kingdom (% in each category on 11 point scale)

  Low (0–4) Medium (5–6) High (7–8) Very High (9–10)
Married or Civil partnership 3.4 12.3 52.2 32.2
Cohabiting or same sex couple 3.9 14.1 55.9 26.1
Single 6.9 19.3 53.0 20.7
Widow or surviving civil partner 8.1 20.5 44.4 27.0
Divorced or separated or former/ separated  civil partner 11.9 23.5 46.2 18.4
Source: April 2013 to March 2014, Annual Population Survey Personal Well-being Experimental dataset, Office for National Statistics
 

Table notes:

  1. Respondents were asked 'Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? Where 0 is 'not at all satisfied' and 10 is 'completely satisfied'.
  2. All estimates weighted.

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The nature of our relationships may have an important influence on personal well-being. According to the Annual Population Survey, people who are married or in a civil partnership were more likely to rate their satisfaction with life as very high (9 to 10 out of 10)1 in 2013–14 (Table 1). Just under a third (32%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK who were married or in a civil partnership rated their satisfaction with life as very high. This compared to 26% who were cohabiting or same sex couples and 21% who were single. Conversely those who were divorced or separated were more likely to have a low (0 to 4) rating of life satisfaction at (12%).

The average rating of satisfaction with family life is one of the three measures of National Well-being looked at as part of the ‘Our relationships’ domain. Adults aged 18 and over in the UK were asked on the European Quality of Life Survey to rate their satisfaction with family life. The average (mean) rating in 2011 (the latest data available) was 8.22. This rating is the same as 2007 when the survey was last run, the rating was 8.0 in the 2003 survey.  

Although this high satisfaction rating indicates that all may be well in our family relationships, there are many external factors that can put pressure on them.

Figure 2: Top 10 problems that place a strain on a relationship (1), 2014

United Kingdom

Figure 2: Top 10 problems that place a strain on a relationship (1), 2014

Notes:

  1. Respondents aged 16 and over were asked 'Which three of the following 17 problems do you think places the most strain on a relationship?' (Please rank these options in order). This chart shows the first ten problems only and does not include those who stated ‘Don’t know’.

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People aged 16 and over in the UK were asked in a survey published by Relate in 2014 to identify the top three challenges (from a list of 17) to their family relationships. Around three-fifths (62%) of people reported money worries as the main factor that placed the most strain on their relationship (Figure 2). This was followed by working long hours or maintaining a work-life balance (40%), infidelity (36%) and not understanding each other (34%). Just under a quarter (24%) reported that family rows put a strain on their relationship.

Most of us like to know that if we had a problem we could turn to someone. Another headline measure of National Well-being under the ‘Our Relationships’ domain is the proportion of people that had a spouse, family member or friend to rely on if they had a serious problem. According to the 2010/11 UK Household Longitudinal Survey, 87% of adults aged 16 and over did have someone to rely on.

In the UK in 2013, there were an estimated 12 million children aged 0 to 15, making up nearly a fifth of the population. Children require positive, loving relationships with the people closest to them. In the Good Childhood Report 2013, The Children’s Society highlighted the importance of family relationships to children’s subjective well-being. It found that a measure of family harmony was substantially more indicative of children’s well-being than family structure.

The 2011/12 UK Household Longitudinal Survey asked people aged 16 and over how often they and their child(ren) spend time together on leisure activities or outings outside the home.  Over a third (36%) of people reported that they spend time together with their children on leisure activities several times a week or almost every day. Just under a third (32%) took their children on outings about once a week, while 16% reported once a month or less or never or rarely.

Figure 3: Children's frequency of quarrelling and talking with parents, 2011/12 (1,2)

United Kingdom

Figure 3: Children's frequency of quarrelling and talking with parents, 2011/12 (1,2)

Notes:

  1. Children aged 10 to 15 years.
  2. Respondents were asked: How often do you quarrel with your mother/father? How often do you talk to your mother/father about things that matter? Response options were: Most days, more than once a week, less than once a week, hardly ever, don’t have mother/father.

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In 2011/12, around 28% of children aged 10 to 15 years reported quarrelling with their mother more than once a week, according to UK Household Longitudinal Survey data (Figure 3). This compares with 20% of children reporting quarrelling with their father more than once a week; most children reported hardly ever quarrelling with their father (60%). It should be noted that more children live with their mothers than with their fathers, which may explain some of the variation. Nearly all children who reported hardly ever quarrelling with their mother reported the same with their father (91%). However, among those children reporting quarrelling frequently with their mother, around half (51%) reported the same with their father.

Children were more likely to report talking frequently to their mother than to their father about things that matter. In 2011/12, nearly two-thirds (63%) of children aged 10 to 15 years talked to their mother more than once a week about things that matter. This compares with nearly two-fifths (40%) who reported talking to their father. Among children aged 10 to 15 who reported talking with their mother more than once a week about things that matter, 58% also reported talking frequently with their father about things that matter. Around 3 in 20 (15%) children in this age group reported hardly ever talking to either parent about things that matter in 2011/12.

 

Notes for Relationships with family

  1. Where 0 is ‘not at all satisfied’ and 10 is ‘completely satisfied’.
  2. Using a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 indicates ‘very dissatisfied' and 10 indicates 'very satisfied'.

Relationships with friends

‘The number of real-life friends is positively correlated with subjective well-being even after controlling for income, demographic variables and personality differences’ (Helliwell and Huang, 2013)

Friends provide support and companionship during bad times and can prevent loneliness. Friends can also increase a sense of belonging and purpose and may improve self-confidence and self-worth.

In 2011/12, 95% of adults aged 16 and over in the UK reported having at least one close friend according to the UK Household Longitudinal Survey. Over two-thirds (68%) reported having between 2 and 6 close friends1.

Figure 4: Proportion of friends that have similar demographics (1), 2011/12

United Kingdom

Figure 4: Proportion of friends that have similar demographics (1), 2011/12

Notes:

  1. 'Similar age' does not include those that reported 'no friends (2.0%). 'Living in local area' does not include 'none' (6.4%).

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Figure 4 shows the proportion of friends with different characteristics that people aged 16 and over reported they had. Over half (53%) reported that all their friends were of the same ethnic group. A third (33%) reported that all their friends were of a similar age while 39% reported they had a similar level of education. Under a fifth stated that their friends received a similar income or lived in their local area (17% and 14% respectively).

On a survey run by YouGov in 2012, adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement ‘I feel I need a core group of people (people who inspire, mentor me, who I can confide in and who support me) to help me achieve my goals in life (for example, job aspirations and education)’. Nearly half (48%) strongly agreed or tended to agree with the statement, while 43% tended to disagree or strongly disagree with the statement.

Table 2: Characteristics of friends (1): by number of friends, 2012

Great Britain (Percentages)

  0   1   2   3   4 or more
Someone you can confide in 7   17   24   18   34
Someone that supports you 8   21   21   15   35
Someone you can escape with/have fun with 10   22   21   11   36
Someone that inspires you 24   24   22   12   18
Someone who will mentor you/guide you 29   31   20   9   11
                   
Source: YouGov        

Table notes:

  1. Respondents aged 18 and over were asked 'Thinking about your core friends (i.e. those who support and help you to achieve your goals)... Approximately, how many, if any, friends do you have who you feel possess each of the following characteristics? (If you're unsure, please give your best estimate). Fieldwork was 30th March to 2nd April 2012.

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On the same survey, respondents were asked how many of their friends possessed certain characteristics. Around 9 in 10 had one or more friends that they could confide in (93%) or that supported them (92%) or they could escape with (90%) (Table 2). Just over three-quarters (76%) of people had one or more friend that inspired them and 71% reported that they had one or more friend that would mentor or guide them.

Meeting face-to-face is still the preferred means of personal communication with friends and family, despite the rising use of digital communications according to Ofcom. In 2012, 48% of people in the UK aged 16 and over who made any sort of contact with friends and family did so face-to-face, while 12% did so by a voice call using a fixed landline and a further 12% used email.  However, the number of social network users, and the amount of time spent on social networking sites, continues to rise; in 2013, 66% of all internet users were active on a social networking site.

On an online survey by YouGov in 2012, respondents aged 18 and over in Great Britain were asked to approximate how many friends they had on their social media sites, in total. Just under a quarter (24%) reported they had fewer than 50 friends, 12% reported 51 to 100 friends and 10% reported 101 to 150 friends. Just under a quarter (24%) reported having more than 150 friends, and 28% reported that they were not a member of a social media site. However, 27% of those who had social media accounts reported that at least half of these friends were just acquaintances (a person they only see occasionally or don’t know very well). Just 8% stated that none of their friends on these sites were just acquaintances.

Notes for Relationships with friends

  1. Personal relationships are a measure of 'Social Capital' more information can be found here: An Analysis of Social Capital in the UK

Relationships within the community

‘For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people's love and concern for each other’ (Millard Fuller, Habitat for Humanity founder).

A community can be described as a place where friends, neighbours and strangers live, work, play and experience everyday life. People need to know that they are part of a community. They need to feel that they have others around them that they can connect with and share commonalities. This in turn may contribute to an individual’s sense of well-being1.

Figure 5: Proportion of people who agreed that they belonged to their neighbourhood (1): by age, 2011/12

United Kingdom

Figure 5: Proportion of people who agreed that they belonged to their neighbourhood (1): by age, 2011/12

Notes:

  1. Respondents were asked to rate their sense of belonging to their neighbourhood from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree". The chart shows those who agreed or strongly agreed.

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In 2011/12, over 6 in 10 (63%) people aged 16 and over agreed or strongly agreed that they belonged to their neighbourhood according to the UK Household Longitudinal Survey (Figure 5). The proportion of people who felt strongly they belonged to a neighbourhood increased by age. Just under half (49%) of those aged 16 to 24 agreed or strongly agreed that they belonged to their neighbourhood compared to 81% of those aged 75 and over. People in Northern Ireland (73%) and Scotland (69%) were more likely to agree that they belonged to their neighbourhood, while those living in London (59%) were least likely to agree.

The 2011/12 UK Household Longitudinal Survey asked adults aged 16 and over whether the friendships and associations they have with other people in their neighbourhood meant a lot to them. Over half (55%) reported that they strongly agreed or agreed with the statement. When split by gender, friendships and associations in the neighbourhood meant a lot to 52% of men compared with 57% of women.

Figure 6: Proportion that agree that friendship and associations in the local neighbourhood mean a lot (1): by age-group, 2011/12

United Kingdom

Figure 6: Proportion that agree that friendship and associations in the local neighbourhood mean a lot (1): by age-group, 2011/12

Notes:

  1. Adults aged 16 and over were asked 'The friendships and associations I have with other people in my neighbourhood mean a lot to me'. The chart shows those that strongly agreed or agreed with the statement.

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The proportion of people in the UK who strongly agreed or agreed that the friendships and associations they have with other people in their neighbourhood meant a lot to them increased with age (Figure 6). Under half (42%) of people aged 16 to 24 agreed with the statement increasing to nearly three-quarters (73%) of those aged 75 and over.

Taking the time to establish good terms with neighbours in the community may have numerous benefits, such as a friendlier community and a safer neighbourhood which in turn would make it a more comfortable place to live. Three-quarters (75%) of people aged 16 and over in England reported on the 2013–14 Community Life Survey that they chat to their neighbours (more than just to say hello) at least once a month.  Just over a fifth (22%) reported that they chat to their neighbours on most days.

A cohesive community is a place where different types of people live and get on well together. It may be a place where there is respect and trust, differences might be celebrated and in turn those living in the community may have a greater sense of belonging. According to the Community Life Survey, 85% of people aged 16 and over in England in 2013–14 thought that their community was cohesive, agreeing that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. There is no significant difference from levels in 2008–09 to 2012–13, but this is a significant increase compared to 2003 when the proportion was 80%.

Figure 7: Community cohesion (1), by age

England

Figure 7: Community cohesion (1), by age

Notes:

  1. 2003 data collected through the Citizenship Survey. Respondents were asked 'To what extent do you agree or disagree that this local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together?' The chart shows those that ‘definitely’ or ‘tended to’ agree with the statement.

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The proportion of people in England who reported that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together varied slightly by age group from 84% for those aged 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 to 91% of those aged 75 and over (Figure 7). Between 2003 and 2013–14 there was an increase in the proportion of people who thought that their local area was cohesive in all age groups. These increases were most notable among young people aged 16 to 24 (10 percentage points) and 25 to 34 (7 percentage points).

Notes for Relationships within the community

  1. Neighbourhood social cohesion are measures of Social Capital, more information can be found here: An Analysis of Social Capital in the UK

Relationships at work

‘Workplace relationships are unique interpersonal relationships with important implications for the individuals in those relationships and the organizations in which the relationships exist and develop. Various studies conducted in this respect have indicated that workplace relationships directly affect a worker's ability to work and produce’ (Mamta Gaur, School of Business, Galgotias University, 2013).

For many people, a lot of their life is spent in the workplace and therefore in the company of their work colleagues. Good workplace relationships may add to a person’s well-being and also may help productivity.

According to the report The Way We Are Now published by Relate in 2014, the amount of contact between those working full-time with work colleagues and bosses exceeds the amount of contact with many other family members or friends in the UK. The report highlighted that employees aged 16 and over were about as likely to have daily contact with work colleagues (62%) than they were their own children (64%). Over 4 in 10 (44%) were more likely to have daily contact with their bosses than with mothers (26%) or friends (16%)1.

Over half (58%) of people at work had at least one close friend at work with over a fifth (22%) having three or more close friends. However, just over two-fifths (42%) of people in work did not count any colleagues as close friends2.

 

Figure 8: Relations between managers and employees, 2011

United Kingdom

Figure 8: Relations between managers and employees, 2011

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The quality of the relationship between a manager and employee can significantly impact the performance of the workforce. According to the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey, managers were generally positive about their relationships with their employees with 96% rating their relationships as very good or good in the UK (Figure 8). Just under two-thirds (64%) of employees reported the relationship between themselves and their managers as good or very good, while 13% reported relations as poor or very poor.

Notes for Relationships at work

  1. Participants were asked: 'On average, how often, if at all, do you have contact with each of the following people (including face-to-face, via phone, text, email, online etc.)? Of those who were full-time employed, 62%, said that they have contact with their colleagues daily.  Of those who were full-time employed and had a relationship with their children, 64% said they had contact with their children daily.  Of those who were full-time employed and had a relationship with their mothers, 26% of respondents said they had contact with their mothers daily. Of those who were full-time employed and had a relationship with their boss, 44% reported they had contact with their boss daily.

  2. These figures are based on the response to the question "How many, if any, of your colleagues do you count as close friends? Refers to people in work who did not say that the question was inapplicable (e.g. in cases where they had no colleagues).

Social life and loneliness

Research from the Universities of Exeter and Queensland shows that the quality of a person’s social life could have an even greater impact than diet and exercise on their health and well-being1.

Another of the measures of National Well-being in the ‘Our relationships’ domain is the average rating of satisfaction with social life. The 2011 European Quality of Life Survey asked adults aged 18 and over in the UK to rate their satisfaction with their social life2. The average (mean) rating in 2011 (the latest data available) was 7.1 out of 10, compared to 7.0 in 2007 and 6.8 in 2003. Satisfaction with a social life varied slightly by age. Those aged 18 to 24 and 65 and over reported the highest average (mean) rating with their social life at 8.0 and 7.6 out of 10 respectively. People aged 25 to 34 reported an average (mean) rating of 7.0 and those aged 35 to 64 a rating of 6.6 out of 10.

Figure 9: Meeting socially (1) at least once a week with friends, relatives or work colleagues (2), 2012

United Kingdom

Figure 9: Meeting socially (1) at least once a week with friends, relatives or work colleagues (2), 2012

Notes:

  1. ‘Meeting socially’ implies meet by choice rather than for reasons of either work or pure duty.
  2. Respondents were asked 'Using this card, how often do you meet socially with friends, relatives or work colleagues'?

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The 2012 European Social Survey People asked those aged 15 and over in the UK how often they met socially with friends, relatives or work colleagues. Over 6 in 10 (63%) reported that they met socially once a week or more3 (Figure 9). Unsurprisingly, those aged 15 to 24 were more likely than other age groups to report that they met socially at least once a week, while those aged 35 to 64 were least likely to socialise with friends, relatives or work colleagues once a week or more. This was probably due to people in this age group having childcare or work commitments.

According to the 2011 European Quality of Life Survey, around 6 in 10 adults aged 18 and over in the UK reported that they were satisfied with the time they currently spent with family (61%) and friends (60%). Over 3 in 10 (36%) wished they could spend more time with family and 36% wished they could spend more time with friends. However, 3% reported that they wished they spent less time with family and 4% less time with friends.

Figure 10: Feeling of loneliness (1), 2014 (2)

Great Britain

Figure 10: Feeling of loneliness (1), 2014 (2)
Source: Opinions and Lifestyle Survey - Office for National Statistics

Notes:

  1. Respondents aged 16 and over were asked 'On a scale where 0 is not at all lonely and 10 is extremely lonely , how lonely do you feel in your daily life?'
  2. April and July 2014.

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Inadequate levels of social relationships may lead to people experiencing loneliness in life. However the feeling of loneliness is subjective; a person may feel lonely even when in the company of family and friends. The ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey asked adults aged 16 and over in Great Britain on a scale of 0 to 10 how lonely they felt in daily life where 0 is not at all lonely and 10 is extremely lonely. Interestingly, over half (53%) of people reported some feeling of loneliness (answers of 1 or more out of 10) in April and July 2014, while 47% reported no feeling of loneliness. A high feeling of loneliness (6 to 10 out of 10) was reported by 15% of people (Figure 10), while 57% reported a very low feeling of loneliness in their daily life (0 to 1 out of 10).

Notes for Social life and loneliness

  1. psychology.exeter.ac.uk/latestnews/archivenews/2009/title_41580_en.html
  2. Using a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 indicates ‘very dissatisfied' and 10 indicates 'very satisfied'.

  3. Once a week, several times a week or every day.

Background notes

  1. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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