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Has personal well-being improved for people in and out of work?

How personal well-being has changed for people in different employment situations since 2011

The latest UK personal well-being estimates show small but significant improvements since 2011 when ONS first began collecting the data. One possible contributor to this is the fall in UK unemployment rates over the past three years. ONS explored what this might mean at the individual level by comparing how people in a range of different work situations rated their personal well-being this year and in 2011/12.

The findings show that unemployed people continued to rate their personal well-being much lower than those who are employed, but both employed and unemployed people rated their personal well-being significantly higher on average in 2013/14 than in 2011/12. This may reflect a higher degree of optimism now that the economy is improving and a perception that employment opportunities may also be improving. However, personal well-being ratings fell among those who are not in work due to long-term sickness or disability. These people may face multiple challenges to personal well-being, being both out of work and in poor health or disabled. They are least able to take advantage of improving employment opportunities. 

Why analyse personal well-being and employment status?

Unemployment has consistently been one of the strongest factors associated with how people rate their personal well-being. Blanchflower et al (2013) suggest that unemployment and inflation are negatively related to national ratings of well-being. Therefore, as unemployment rates fall, we should expect to see personal well-being improve. From 2011/12 to 2013/14 the unemployment rate has steadily decreased from 7.9% in April-June 2011 to 6.8% in January-March 2014. Also, the proportion of the working age population categorised as economically inactive decreased 1.3 percentage points over this period.

The continuing fall in UK unemployment rates over the past three years does appear to be mirrored by the small but significant improvements in the personal well-being estimates. Previous ONS analysis about personal well-being in the UK has also found that unemployed people, those out of the labour market due to long-term illness or disability, and those working part-time because they have not been able to find full-time employment have lower than average personal well-being. These groups provide the focus for the analysis below.

How do personal well-being ratings differ among people in different employment situations?

Figure 1 shows how personal well-being varies by employment status, using the latest estimates for 2013/14. The UK average scores out of ten for the four measures were: life satisfaction, 7.5 out of 10; sense that what we do in life is worthwhile, 7.7; happiness, 7.4; and anxiety, 2.9.

Employed people rated their well-being significantly higher than the UK averages for all of the positive measures of personal well-being. This is most noticeable for life satisfaction (7.6) and sense that what we do in life is worthwhile (7.9). Employed people also rated their anxiety significantly below the UK average. 

People who are unemployed, those who are economically inactive due to long-term illness or disability and those who are working part-time because they could not find a full-time job all rated their personal well-being significantly lower than the UK averages. 

Unemployed people rated their life satisfaction as 6.7 out of 10 on average, sense that the things they do in their lives are worthwhile as 7.1, and happiness as 6.9. Their average score for anxiety (3.3) was significantly higher than the UK average.

The biggest differences were seen in scores from those who were economically inactive because of long term sickness or disability. People who are economically inactive because of long-term illness or disability rated all of the positive measures of personal well-being significantly below the UK averages. For example, they rated their life satisfaction as 5.5 out of 10 on average, 6.0 for the sense that what we do in life is worthwhile, and 5.7 for happiness. The average anxiety rating of this group (4.7) was significantly higher than the UK average. These scores suggest particularly low personal well-being among this group. This is consistent with previous ONS analysis about personal well-being in the UK which shows that those who are economically inactive due to ill health or disability rate their personal well-being particularly low across all measures even after a range of other possible influences on personal well-being are taken into account (ONS 2013).

People who said they work part-time because they could not find a full-time job also reported scores significantly below the UK averages for life satisfaction (7.1), the sense that what we do in life is worthwhile (7.5), and happiness (7.2). They also rated their anxiety levels (3.1) significantly higher than the UK average.

Figure 1: Average personal well-being ratings by selected employment status, compared with UK averages, 2013/14

Figure 1: Average personal well-being ratings by selected employment status, compared with UK averages, 2013/14

Notes:

  1. * indicates statistically significant based on non-overlapping confidence intervals
  2. People working part-time because they could not find a part-time job are also included in the ‘In employment’ category
  3. People who are long-term sick are economically inactive and are not included in the ‘Unemployed’ category

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How do people in different employment situations rate their personal well-being now, compared with 2011/12?

Between 2011/12 and 2013/14 there have been small improvements in reported personal well-being among employed and unemployed people. There is some evidence that reported personal well-being among people who are economically inactive due to long-term illness or disability has fallen.

Comparing the latest estimates to those of 2011/12 (see Figure 2), employed people and unemployed people had significantly improved average scores for all measures. People who are economically inactive due to long-term illness or disability rated their sense that the things that they do in their lives are worthwhile significantly lower on average in 2013/14 than in 2011/12 (6.0 and 6.2, respectively). People working part-time because they could not find full-time work had an average happiness score of 7.2 out of 10, a significant increase from 6.9 in 2011/12. For these last two groups, there were no other significant changes in average ratings of personal well-being between 2011/12 and 2013/14.

Figure 2: Changes in average personal well-being ratings, 2011/12 to 2013/14

Figure 2: Changes in average personal well-being ratings, 2011/12 to 2013/14

Notes:

  1. * indicates significance based on non-overlapping confidence intervals
  2. People working part-time because they could not find a part-time job are also included in the ‘In employment’ category
  3. People who are long-term sick are economically inactive and are not included in the ‘Unemployed’ category

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Have the proportions reporting highest and lowest personal well-being changed for people in different employment situations?

Figure 3 shows the proportions of people in each employment group who rated their personal well-being at the highest and lowest levels this year, and the changes since 2011/12.

Among employed people, the proportions reporting the lowest well-being fell significantly for all measures while the proportions reporting the highest well-being increased. The picture was more mixed for unemployed people. Among this group, there was a significant fall in the proportions reporting the lowest well-being for all of the measures but no significant changes in the proportions reporting the highest well-being for any of them. 

Among those who are economically inactive due to long-term illness or disability, there was a significant fall in the proportion reporting the highest levels of life satisfaction (12.8% in 2011/12 compared with 10.9% in 2013/14) and sense that what we do in life is worthwhile (19.5 % in 2011/12 compared with 17.1% in 2013/14). There were no other significant changes for this group.

Among those working part-time because they could not find full-time work, the picture was largely stable, with no significant changes in the proportions reporting highest or lowest personal well-being over the three-year period. 

Figure 3: Highest and lowest reported personal well-being by selected economic status, 2013/14

Figure 3: Highest and lowest reported personal well-being by selected economic status, 2013/14

Notes:

  1. People working part-time because they could not find a part-time job are also included in the ‘In employment’ category
  2. People who are long-term sick are economically inactive and are not included in the ‘Unemployed’ category
  3. Arrows indicate significance based on non-overlapping confidence intervals

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Why might personal well-being ratings have improved for people in some employment situations but not others?

The improved personal well-being ratings of both employed and unemployed people may reflect a higher degree of optimism now that the economy is improving. Among unemployed people, there may also be greater hope now than there was in 2011/12 that employment prospects are improving. 

Although personal well-being ratings have improved among unemployed people, they are still much lower than those of employed people. There has been a small shift among the unemployed from the lowest ratings of personal well-being to slightly more positive ratings, but no increase in the proportions giving the highest ratings of personal well-being.

Among those who may be considered to have multiple challenges to personal well-being, such as those who are not in work and in poor health, personal well-being ratings have deteriorated despite the more positive economic news. These people are less likely to take advantage of increasing employment opportunities. As others around them begin to feel more positive about economic recovery and future employment prospects, they may feel worse about their lives in comparison.

The reported personal well-being of those who are working part-time because they have been unable to find full-time work has changed very little over this period. People who were in this situation two years ago gave very similar ratings of personal their well-being on average to those in this group in 2013/14. The only statistically significant improvement was in average reported happiness. 

Where can I find out more about well-being?

These statistics were collected and analysed by the Measuring National Well-being programme at ONS. If you’d like to find out more about the latest personal well-being statistics, read Personal well-being in the UK, 2013/14 or explore the data for yourself using our interactive maps and graphs. For more information please contact the Measuring Personal Well-being team on personal.well-being@ons.gsi.gov.uk.

Categories: People and Places, Communities, Societal Wellbeing, Measuring Societal Well-being
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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