Thursday, 10 January 2013

When a man is tired of life, he might just be tired of London: regional wellbeing in the UK

As many people know, the ONS - supported by the Prime Minister - has been expanding its efforts to measure the population's wellbeing.  This comes at a time when a lot of academic and think-tank work has argued that governments should take far more notice of 'happiness' indicators to judge the success of policies.

In practice, these expanded efforts have involved including four new questions into the Annual Population Survey.  These new questions measure four dimensions of wellbeing:

  • Satisfaction with life
  • Happiness
  • Life worth
  • Anxiety

Part of my PhD is exploring the relationship between wellbeing and labour market status, especially differences between welfare-to-work participants and other unemployed people.  But as part of my work I must also look at what other factors are important in determining a person's wellbeing.  These include, for example, gender, marital status, age and religious belief.

I've also been looking at the link between where you live and wellbeing.  And in the course of this research an interesting trend has emerged.  This is that London - for each of the four indicators of wellbeing outlined above - always comes last.  

Take a look at the tables below, which rank each the 11 regions in order - from those with the highest level for a particular indicator of wellbeing to those with the lowest (except 'anxiety', which is runs from least to most anxious).  London is bottom in each league table and - if you look in at the hard numbers - it is often way behind.

I don't know any academic research that explores why this might be.  But there are certain things we know are linked to wellbeing that London might have a poor record in: inequality, community, the environment.  We also know the family is often important for wellbeing and, considering many people move to London away from their families to pursue work, this could also be a factor.  Finally, we mustn't rule out the idea of 'the rat race' that, if these figures are anything to go by, may have something to it.

More research is needed on the link between area and wellbeing, but the ONS evidence looks robust.  The relationships in the table above hold even when a range of other factors are controlled for: such as employment status, age, gender, ethnicity and many more.

For years, health and social scientists have pored over the so-called 'Glasgow Effect'; that is, the unusually bad physical health outcomes associated with Glasgow.  Now, it might time to start investigating a possible 'London Effect' for mental wellbeing.  And, if you want to know where to live, it should be obvious from the table above: South West is the best (and Scotland isn't too bad either).

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