the European Social Survey – Looking through the wellbeing kaleidoscope.

The report is the culmination of a year-long project led by the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys at City University London, working alongside the New Economics Foundation, and the Wellbeing Institute at the University of Cambridge.

Whilst much useful wellbeing research has relied upon life satisfaction as an overall measure of wellbeing –  this project took advantage of the richness of the European Social Survey, which has now included two specific modules on wellbeing, to explore its multi-dimensionality.

Here are eight of the most interesting things you’ll find in the report:

  • Results for a new comprehensive psychological wellbeing measure. It incorporates ten different aspects of wellbeing – competence, emotional stability, engagement, meaning, optimism, positive emotion, positive relationships, resilience, self-esteem, and vitality.
  • The UK ranks second from bottom in terms of sense of vitality. As well as the overall comprehensive score, the report explores how different elements of wellbeing vary between countries. For example.  The UK relatively well in terms of optimism (8th out of 21 countries),  but not so well in terms of vitality or positive relationships (16th out of 21).
  • There are often large differences in wellbeing between population groups, but they are not inevitable. Although those of an ethnic minority, on low incomes or with low education often have lower average wellbeing, this is not always the case, with some countries showing almost no difference. This suggests that policy could aim to reduce or eliminate these inequalities.
  • Unemployment rates and governance are the key determinants of wellbeing inequalities.Not only is unemployment and poor governance bad for average wellbeing, but they are further associated with inequalities in wellbeing.
  • People in the UK how low levels of participation in the five ways to wellbeing, compared to peer countries such as France and Germany. The five ways to wellbeing are a set of actions that evidence suggests promote wellbeing. They are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, and Give.  With the exception of those aged 65 and over, the UK generally had low levels of participation in the five ways,
  • Young women (15 – 24), parents, and people doing housework or childcare in the UK reported very low rates on Take Notice (whether people take notice and appreciate their surroundings). This finding was not replicated across Europe, suggesting there may be particular barriers in the UK for these population groups which may be amenable to policy.
  • The more marginalised groups in society – women, those who claim membership of a discriminated group, and those with lower education – have a lower level of perceived quality of society. This is measured in terms of assessments of the key institutions in society: trust in the police, politicians, parliament and legal institutions, and satisfaction with public services, government, the economy, and democracy. Those in middle aged groups (25 to 64) also have more negative views. This suggests that our democratic and legal institutions may need to do more to engage with these groups.
  • There are marked regional inequalities in perceived quality of society within the UK, with London and the South East having high levels of economic and governmental satisfaction compared to other regions, particularly the Midlands.
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