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Measuring National Well-being - Young People's Well-being, 2014

Released: 06 March 2014 Download PDF


This publication proposes a draft set of measures of national well-being for young people aged 16 to 24. The measures are the latest output from the ONS Measuring National Well-being (MNW) programme and are released alongside a draft set of measures of national well-being for children aged 0 to 15. The aim of these measures is to provide information on key sub-groups of the population to supplement the existing 41 experimental measures of national well-being which are published by the MNW Programme twice a year. 


This article outlines a first draft set of 29 headline measures of young people’s well-being and the reasons for their selection across seven of the ten domains used in the national set. These domains are Personal Well-being, Our Relationships, Health, What We Do, Where We Live, Personal Finance and Education & Skills. The remaining three domains (Governance, Natural Environment and Economy) are more relevant to all age groups and have not been included here.

The full list of headline measures can be found in the data section (369.5 Kb Excel sheet) of this article. Other potential measures have been included which reflect possible additional or alternatives to the proposed headline measures.

Findings from the MNW Children and Young People’s project have been used to inform this work1. Where new measures have been proposed, the criteria to determine the original set of broader measures have been used. As outlined in the criteria, UK data has been used where available; in cases where there is not a measure for the UK, England or England and Wales has been used.

ONS would appreciate any feedback on these measures by 17 April 2014. ONS will continue to develop the measures for children and young people taking account of ongoing feedback from users and experts. An update of the measures will be published taking into account data availability and further work needed to fill gaps in measurement. ONS will also undertake more in-depth analysis of the measures to provide further insight into what the data and measures tell us about children and young people's well-being in the UK.

Why measure young people’s well-being?

There were around 7.5 million young people aged 16 to 24 in the UK in 2010 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) mid-year population estimates (ONS, 2013a). This age is important as it is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood, and the ways in which this transition is negotiated may affect well-being. Arnett (2004) coined the phrase ‘emerging adulthood’ to describe this stage of life. He explained how it is different from ‘late adolescence’ as it is a period of life “much freer from parental control [and] much more a period of independent exploration.” Furthermore, Arnett argues this period of life is different from ‘young adulthood’ as many 18-24 year olds have yet to make “the transitions historically associated with adult status” such as marriage and parenthood. 

Notes for Introduction

  1. For further information see: ONS, 2013 Review of available sources and measures for children and young people’s well-being (712.7 Kb Pdf) ; ONS, 2012 Measuring National Well-being - Children's Well-being, 2012

Personal Well-being


Personal well-being proposed measures

Measure Geographic coverage  Source Latest year Latest data
Proportion of young people with a medium-high level of life satisfaction* UK ONS 2012–13 81%
Proportion of young people with a medium-high level of feeling their activities are worthwhile* UK ONS 2012–13 79%
Proportion of young people with a medium-high level of happiness yesterday* UK ONS 2012–13 72%
Proportion of young people with a medium-low level of anxiety yesterday* UK ONS 2012–13 64%
Mental well-being (mean score out of 35)* UK Understanding Society 2009–10 25 out of 35

Table notes:

  1. *Measure also included in the National Measures of Well-being

Download table

An important component of national well-being is the subjective well-being of all individuals, including young people. It is measured by finding out how people think and feel about their own lives. Subjective well-being measures are grounded in individuals' preferences and take account of what matters to people by allowing them to decide what is important. By looking at young people as a separate sub-group, we can see if they differ from the general population. While subjective well-being is important, it is just one component of national well-being.

Personal Well-being

Since April 2011, the Annual Population Survey, which samples people from age 16, has included four questions which are used to monitor personal wellbeing in the UK:

1. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
2. Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
3. Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
4. Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

Responses are on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is 'not at all' and 10 is 'completely'. Higher levels of personal well-being for life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness are defined as 7 or more out of 10. However, for anxiety 3 or less out of 10 is used because lower levels of anxiety indicate better personal well-being.

Young people are more likely to report higher levels of satisfaction with their life and lower levels of anxiety compared with all adults. This may relate to the increase in freedom, independence and self-focus associated with the ‘emerging adulthood’ lifestage. Similar proportions of young people have higher levels of happiness yesterday and feel that the things they do are worthwhile as all adults.

Mental Well-being

The mental well-being measure is the shortened version of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (SWEMWBS). This was developed to measure the mental well-being of populations and groups over time. As such, we can compare young people as a sub-group with the general population. The SWEMWBS provides a mean score (out of 35) of mental well-being for the population and changes over time can be assessed by examining differences in the mean score; however, it cannot be used to categorise good, average or poor mental well-being1. “WEMWBS has been validated for use in the UK with those aged 16 and above. Validation involved both student and general population samples, and focus groups”  (Health Scotland). 

Notes for Personal Well-being

  1. As well as not being designed to identify people who have or probably have a mental illness, WEMWBS does not have a ‘cut off’ level to divide the population into those who have ‘good’ and those who have ‘poor’ mental well-being in the way that scores on other mental health measures, for example the GHQ 12.

Our Relationships

Our relationships proposed measures

Measure Geographic coverage Age group Source Latest year Latest data
Proportion of young people with someone to rely on when there is a serious problem* UK  16 to 24 Understanding Society 2010–11 82%
Proportion of young people who quarrel with a parent more than once a week (mother/father)  UK  16 to 21 only Understanding Society 2011–12 25% Mother 16% Father
Proportion of young people who talk to a parent  about things that matter more than once a week (mother/father) UK  16 to 21 only Understanding Society 2011–12 58% Mother  36% Father
Proportion of young people who eat an evening meal with their family three or more times a week UK  16 to 21 only Understanding Society 2011–12 60%

Table notes:

  1. * Measure also included in the National Measures of Well-being

Download table

A person’s relationships with family and friends can affect their well-being in a number of ways. “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...Subjective well-being is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections” (Helliwell and Putnam, 2004). An analysis of experimental data from the Annual Population Survey found that overall life satisfaction and personal relationships are related; those who reported a higher level of life satisfaction were more likely to report higher satisfaction with their personal relationships than those with lower levels of life satisfaction (ONS 2012a).

Good communication is important to healthy relationships, so the proposed headline measures include both quarrelling with parents and talking to parents about things that matter. Whereas earlier research focused more on the quality of the children’s relationships with their mother, latest research has highlighted the importance of children’s relationships with their father (Tim Loughton speech to Fatherhood Commission, 2010). These relationships are still vital during the transition to adulthood.

The proportion of young people who eat an evening meal with their family three or more times a week provides an indication of family cohesion. The data for these measures comes from the young adults module of the Understanding Society Survey which was asked of all 16 to 21 year olds, living in the parental home1. Having someone to rely on, be it a partner or spouse, another family member, or a friend, when there is a serious problem shows the importance of a support network.

Someone to rely on

Using data from Understanding Society, in 2010-11 82% of 16 to 24 year olds had someone to rely on. This is less than the proportion of all adults, where 87% had someone to rely on. The difference may be accounted for by the higher levels of marriage and partnerships in older age groups compared with 16 to 24 year olds. Young people may also have other role models and confidants that they can rely on for support, such as teachers, which may not be captured by this measure.

Relationship with parents

The measures ‘quarrelling with mother/father’ and ‘talking to mother/father about things that matter’ are proposed to reflect young people’s perceptions of the quality of their relationships with their family.

The differences in some of these measures, when compared with children aged 10 to 15 years old, illustrate the ‘emerging adulthood’ life stage, where young people are developing more self-reliance, self-awareness and preparing to become independent adults. Children, especially as they move through adolescence, are still trying to establish their independence and will often challenge their parents to do this. Arnett (2004) claims that emerging adulthood is a time when parental supervision has diminished and young people are more self-focused.

Other potential measures

Living with parents
The Office for National Statistics recently published an analysis of Labour Force Survey data, which showed that in 2013, 49% of 20 to 24 year olds lived with their parents, compared with 42% in 2008 (ONS, 2014a). It shows that men are more likely than women (at all ages) to live with their parents and that amongst 20 to 34 year olds, the percentage of those living with their parents who are unemployed (13%) is more than twice that of those who don’t (6%). As expected, the proportion of 16 to 19 year olds living at home is similar in 2008 to the proportion living at home in 2013, with 84% compared with 86% respectively. This measure is important but these data do not allow us to determine whether living with parents after the age of 20 has a positive or negative effect on a person’s well-being.

Relationships with friends
Friendships are also important to a person’s well-being. Time may be spent on social websites, chatting to friends online, or going out socially with friends. Data from Understanding Society in 2011-12 show that nearly 91% of young people belong to a social website compared with less than 50% of all adults. Furthermore, nearly 40% of young people spent between 1 and 3 hours chatting to friends online a day, and nearly 15% spent over 4 hours online with friends. Despite all the time spent online, young people still spend time with their friends in person, as over 90% of 16 to 21 year olds went out socially with their friends in 2011-12. These measures have not been included as headline measures as people are able to choose their friends and so are more likely to be happy with their friends and have good, supportive relationships.   

Notes for Our Relationships

  1. It is important to note that this is a specific sub-group of young people. The questions about relationships with parents could also be relevant to young people living away from the parental home, either temporarily (e.g. students) or permanently; however, they will have a qualitatively different meaning in this context.


Health proposed measures

Measure Geographic coverage Source Latest year  Latest data
Proportion of young people with a disability or long-term illness* UK ONS Mar-13 11%
Proportion of young people with a relatively high level of satisfaction with their health* UK Understanding Society 2011–12 66%
Proportion of young people with some symptoms of anxiety or depression* UK Understanding Society 2011–12 21%
Under 18 conception rate England and Wales ONS 2011 30.9 per 1,000 women aged 15–17
Proportion of young people who are overweight, including obese England Health and Social Care Information Centre 2012 36%

Table notes:

  1. * Measure also included in the National Measures of Well-being

Download table

Data from the Annual Population Survey showed that amongst adults in the UK, self-reported health was the most important factor associated with subjective well-being (ONS 2013b). A person’s health is affected by the social and economic environment, the physical environment and personal characteristics and behaviours. People reporting very bad health reported lower levels of life satisfaction and higher levels of anxiety than people in good health.

Disability and long-term illness

A measure which is used in national well-being and is also available for young people is the proportion of the population with a long term limiting illness or disability. Most children with physical disabilities or chronic illness will live to adulthood. The transition into adulthood for children with long-term illnesses and disabilities can be difficult and frightening. During adolescence problems can occur such as social isolation, a lack of daily-living skills, difficulties in finding work and additional problems in family relationships, such as over-protectiveness by parents and low parental expectations. They will experience change in a number of areas: from paediatric to adult health services, school to higher education or work and childhood dependence to adult autonomy. How this transition is negotiated may determine whether it has a positive or negative impact on their future well-being.

Satisfaction with health

Health problems develop with age, as can be seen  in the proportions of adults with long-term illnesses or disabilities, so it is reasonable to expect young people to be more satisfied with their health than older people. Analysis by ONS identified that young people were more likely to report satisfaction with their health than any other age group (ONS, 2013c). It is important to maintain or improve people’s health and their satisfaction with their health as they age to ensure positive well-being in later life.

Mental health

Another measure used in national well-being which is also available for the 16 to 24 age group is the proportion with some symptoms of anxiety or depression, measured using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) scores. An illustration of how GHQ scores differ by age group can be found in “Measuring National Well-being – Health” (ONS 2013c).  Poor mental health is often a direct response to what is happening in young people’s lives. The emotional well-being of young people is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows young people to develop resilience and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. 

“An important part of growing up is working out and accepting who you are. Some young people find it hard to make this transition to adulthood and may experiment with alcohol, drugs or other substances that can affect mental health” (Mental Health Foundation).

Teenage Pregnancy

Both teenage motherhood and being a child of a young mother can affect individuals’ future well-being across several domains of national well-being including health, the economy and personal finance. Some of the problems associated with becoming a teenage mother include disrupted schooling, which may lead to the mother and child living in relative poverty and becoming a low socio-economic household. In addition, children born to teenage mothers are twice as likely to become teenage parents themselves (ONS 2013d).


The Health Survey for England1 uses objective measurements of height and weight to calculate Body Mass Index. It shows that the proportion of young people who are overweight or obese had increased between 2003 and 2012. Obesity at a younger age can increase the risk of developing serious diseases, can damage a person’s quality of life and may trigger depression in later life.

Other potential measures

Life expectancy
Life expectancy for both men and women at age 16 has increased over the decade 2002 to 2012. “The length and quality of people’s lives differ substantially. Some of these differences are unavoidable (e.g., genetic differences) or random (e.g., accidents). However, factors that are amenable to change, such as socio-economic status, education and quality of one’s immediate living environment, also play a significant part, leading to large inequalities in life expectancy” (The Kings Fund). Women have a longer life expectancy than men, but the difference between life expectancy for men and women at age 16 is becoming smaller. Figures from ONS show that in 2002 there was a difference of 4.5 years, whereas in 2012 the difference was 3.8 years. Life expectancy is important but is more affected by mortality and morbidity at older ages. As such, the other headline measures are considered more relevant to young people.

Lifestyle behaviours
A person’s health is affected by the social and economic environment, the physical environment and personal characteristics and behaviours (World Health Organisation). Risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs are known to affect a person’s short and long-term health and will therefore have an effect on well-being. However, as there is not one overall measure of how healthy people’s lifestyles are this has not been included as a headline measure.

Causes of death
The leading cause of death in England and Wales in 2012 amongst 16 to 24 year olds was suicide. Suicide has recently overtaken land transport accidents (LTAs) as the leading cause of death amongst young people in England and Wales, as there has been a decline in the rate of LTA deaths for both men and women aged 16 to 24. Suicide rates can be used as an indication of acute mental health problems. 

Notes for Health

  1. Heath Survey for England

What We Do

What we do proposed measures

Measure Geographic coverage Source Latest year  Latest data
Unemployment rate for young people* UK ONS Apr–June       2013 21%
Proportion of young people with a relatively high level of satisfaction with the amount of leisure time they have* UK Understanding Society 2011–12 62%
Proportion of young people who have volunteered in the last 12 months* UK Understanding Society 2011–12 17%
Proportion of young people who participate in at least one session of moderate activity a week* England Sport England Oct 2012 – Oct 2013 54%
Proportion of young people who have engaged with or participated in an arts or cultural activity at least three times in the last year* England Department for Culture Media and Sport 2012–13 83%

Table notes:

  1. * Measure also included in the National Measures of Well-being

Download table

This domain aims to capture the diversity of activities in which people engage and the levels of commitment and involvement that they bring to them. It considers the balance between leisure and non-leisure time and the well-being derived from leisure activities including engaging with culture and sport.

Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is the proportion of economically active people who are not currently working but who have been looking for work in the last four weeks and are available to start within the next two weeks. People may be economically inactive for a number of reasons; for example they are full-time carers, profoundly disabled, or in full-time education. Due to the economic downturn resulting in fewer jobs1 young people may decide to continue in full-time education.

Data from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey shows that the unemployment rate for young people has increased substantially over the last decade, from 12.5% in April-June 2003 to 21.4% in April-June 2013. Young people may be unemployed due to a lack of experience, education, qualifications, training or jobs available. The article “Young People in the Labour Market” published by ONS (2014c) presents a fuller analysis of these changes.

A lack of money due to unemployment may increase feelings of social isolation in young people as they cannot afford to socialise or go out and meet other people as often as they may like. Young unemployed people may also experience symptoms of mental illness.

The Prince's Trust claims that “the longer people are out of work, the more likely they are to feel a lapse in confidence. Those who are long-term unemployed are significantly more likely to feel this way than those out of work for less than six months” (The Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index 2014).

Leisure time

The Understanding Society survey asks respondents to say how satisfied they are with the amount of leisure time they have. As a subjective measure, this is important to understand how people’s time-use can affect their well-being. “The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s well-being for the direct satisfaction it brings. Additionally leisure, taken in certain ways, is important for physical and mental health. Leisure also contributes to the well-being of people other than the person directly enjoying leisure.” (OECD, 2009)


Being a volunteer has been shown to be related to better well-being. “We define volunteering as any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.” (Volunteering England).

Volunteering can help develop new skills and it is an opportunity to gain experience and meet new people.  A young person can make a difference by volunteering. The New Economics Foundation’s Five Ways to Well-being states “Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.”

Participation in at least one session of moderate activity a week

According to Sport England, participation in physical activity and sport has been shown to be effective in reducing depression, anxiety, psychological distress and emotional disturbance. Low-to-moderate physical exercise can reduce anxiety and have both short and long-term beneficial effects on psychological health. Taking part in sport and spectating can have a positive impact on the well-being and happiness of young people.

Engagement or participation in an arts or cultural activity

Arts and culture can have a positive impact on well-being. Access to arts and culture also feeds into the domains of health, where we live and education. 

 “Creative activity has long been known to have tangible effects on health and quality of life. The arts, creativity and the imagination are agents of wellness: they help keep the individual resilient, aid recovery and foster a flourishing society” (National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing).  

Notes for What We Do

  1. Vacancies statistics produced by ONS

Where We Live

Where we live proposed measures

Measure Geographic coverage Source Latest year  Latest data
Proportion of young people who have been victims of crime at least once in the last year England and Wales ONS 2012–13 26%
Proportion of young people who feel safe walking alone in their local area after dark* England and Wales ONS 2012–13 72%

Table notes:

  1. * Measure also included in the National Measures of Well-being

Download table

There is a disparity between levels of recorded crime and people’s perceptions of crime in their neighbourhoods. Young people are more likely to be a victim of crime and this can affect what they do and when they do it, and how they feel about their community.

Victims of crime

A person’s well-being can be affected in many ways if they have been a victim of crime. There can be short or long term effects of crime and some people cope well with horrific crimes while others can be distressed by a minor incident (Victim Support). Crime can also affect family and friends, and people’s lifestyle can change by taking precautions if they do not feel safe. Age can be a factor in determining whether someone becomes a victim of personal crime: the percentage of both men and women who were victims of personal crime decreases with age.

Feeling safe walking alone in their local area after dark

This measure can help us to understand people’s perceptions of crime. A person may not feel they are safe walking alone after dark if they fear they are at a higher risk of being a victim of crime.

Other potential measures

Belonging to the neighbourhood
Belonging to the neighbourhood leads to a greater sense of community and feelings of security. Positive feelings of belonging to the neighbourhood as a community and a member of that community is a key factor in achieving economic and civil well-being. It may also be associated with positive mental health.

Young people experience their neighbourhoods differently from both children and the older adult population. They may be in them temporarily and so be less likely to feel strong bonds with the area. 

Personal Finance

Personal finance proposed measures

Measure Geographic coverage Source Latest year Latest data 
Proportion of young people living in households with less than 60% of median income* UK Eurostat 2011 20%
Proportion of young people with a relatively high level of satisfaction with household income* UK Understanding Society 2011–12 52%
Proportion of young people finding their financial situation difficult or very difficult* UK Understanding Society 2011–12 11%

Table notes:

  1. * Measure also included in the National Measures of Well-being

Download table

Respondents to the National Debate on ‘What matters to you’ (ONS 2012b) identified the importance of having adequate income or wealth to cover basic needs such as somewhere to live and food on the table. A lack of finances can affect a person’s health, their access to community resources and their own contribution to that community.  During emerging adulthood, personal finance becomes important as young people become independent, expect to move out of the parental home and take on financial responsibilities such as rent or mortgages. Being unable to do the things you would like to do because of a lack of money can reduce your level of life satisfaction, make life seem less worthwhile and affect how happy you may be; furthermore, worrying about finances could make you more anxious. Seddon (ONS, 2012c) illustrates the relationship between personal well-being and income. Using experimental data from the Opinions Survey, she found that the lowest two income groups had the lowest life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness yesterday scores, and the highest anxiety scores.

Household income

This is a measure which is frequently used to indicate households which are in relative poverty and being poor can affect an individual’s well-being. While this may be used as the headline measure for well-being, other thresholds of measurement may be used in analysis of this domain, together with different household structures and the number of young people living in households within these thresholds. Analysis by ONS illustrated the changes to median household income1 before and after housing costs since 1994/95 (ONS 2012c). It explains that the fall in median income between 2009/10 and 2010/11 was mainly due to earnings increasing by less than the relatively high inflation rate over the period. The recent decrease in the proportion of households with less than 60% of median income is due not to these households’ incomes increasing, but as a result of the fluctuations in the median income threshold. Further analysis can be found in “The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income, 2011/12” (ONS 2013e).

Subjective measures 

These measures were chosen to reflect whether household income is perceived as sufficient. The questions about satisfaction with household income and how people find their financial situation were asked of all individuals aged 16 and over, regardless if they lived in their own household or with their parents. There is debate around whether the relationship between income and well-being is absolute or relative. Income may relate to subjective well-being because it aids individuals in meeting basic needs. However, it may also relate to well-being because people compare themselves to other people around them based on income (Diener, E, et al 1993).

Other potential measures

Debt is a large and important factor which influences a person’s life choices. In a recent analysis of a survey of those who are in debt, the Money Advice Service (MAS) suggested that 21% of those in debt were aged 18-24. They classified 11.3% of the over-indebted population as ‘Struggling Students’. The survey found that for over half of ‘struggling students,’ keeping up with bills is a heavy burden and nearly three-quarters have fallen behind with credit commitments in the last three months.  The MAS classified a further 9.8% of the over-indebted population as ‘First Time Workers’. The survey found that for half of first time workers, keeping up with bills is a heavy burden and nearly four in five have fallen behind with credit commitments in the last three months. No measure of indebtedness which meets the criteria for measures of national well-being has been identified. 

Notes for Personal Finance

  1. Median household income is the middle point of the range of household income in the UK. Half of UK households have less than the median and half have more. Household income is equivalised to take account of the different sizes and composition of households.

Education and Skills

Education and skills proposed measures

Measure Geographic coverage Source Latest year  Latest data
Proportion who have attained National Qualifications Framework level 2 qualifications by age 19 England Department for Education   2012 85%
Proportion who have attained National Qualifications Framework level 3 qualifications by age 19 England Department for Education   2012 58%
Proportion of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) England ONS July–Sept 2013 15%

Download table

Education and skills were highlighted in the National Debate as being important to well-being. Having a good education and a strong skills set equips you for the future, and is associated with a higher income, greater emotional resilience, and better physical health (Sabates, R and Hammond, C, 2008), all of which may have an impact upon personal well-being.

For many 16 to 24 year olds, the ‘emerging adult’ lifestage is a period of continued education, which should be a route to increasing one’s personal well-being. “Learning encourages social interaction and increases self-esteem and feelings of competency. Behaviour directed by personal goals to achieve something new has been shown to increase reported life satisfaction” (Michaelson, J., et al, New Economics Foundation, 2009). Most 16 year olds will have completed compulsory education and many will aspire to pursue higher and further education qualifications. By the age of 24, studies will be, on the whole, completed and the learning and skills obtained during this period will be put to use. There is contradictory evidence about the effects of education on personal well-being, with some studies suggesting that middle-level education is related to the highest levels of well-being. Although there is a positive association between education and life satisfaction, Sabates and Hammond suggest that “Maybe education has negative as well as positive impacts, for example through raising expectations that are not met and by leading to occupations that carry high levels of stress.”


The proportion of young people achieving the equivalent of five GCSEs graded A*-C (National Qualifications Framework Level 2) or the equivalent of 2 or more A-levels by age 19 are key measures in the Department for Education’s business plan1 and the Government Social Mobility Strategy2 . In recent years there has been much debate around ‘grade-inflation’; that exams are getting easier and the threshold for a passing grade is lower. Baird et al (2013) at the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment found that there is no definitive evidence for grade inflation. They argue that, “rises in grades might be explained by harder work, better teaching, more support for learning and higher aspirations. But examinations could be easier, or they could be testing the wrong kind of learning in a target-driven education system.”

Not in Education, Employment or Training

Being not in education, employment or training – NEET – is a measure specific to young people and can impact upon many areas of their well-being. “Young People in the Labour Market” (ONS 2014c) explains the main reasons for inactivity among young people no longer in full time education. The Princes Trust Macquarie Youth Index 2014 states “Young people’s confidence in their qualifications remained at its lowest ever point for the second year running.” Furthermore, it found that young people with fewer than five GCSEs graded A*-C were less happy with their work or employment than young people overall and young people classified as NEET ranked lowest in terms of happiness and confidence.

Other potential measures

Aspirations are important for young people to provide them with goals and a direction in life. Research has found that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds often have the same aspirations as those from more well-off backgrounds but lack the mechanisms and support to achieve those aspirations. Croll and Fuller (2010) found that “at all levels of ability, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to believe that they can be successful educationally and in the world of work”. Having and achieving aspirations is important to a number of areas of well-being but to understand the full picture we would also have to measure whether young people have the opportunities to achieve their aspirations.

University entrants
Going to university and achieving a degree is often a key aspiration for young people. As well as being a step towards their future career, university life helps young people to gain new experiences become self-aware and independent. 

Notes for Education and Skills

  1. Department for Education business plan, 2012

  2. Cabinet Office, Government Social Mobility Strategy, 2011

About the ONS Measuring National Well-being Programme

This article is published as part of the ONS Measuring National Well-being Programme.

The programme aims to produce accepted and trusted measures of the well-being of the nation - how the UK as a whole is doing. It is about looking at 'GDP and beyond' and includes:

  • Greater analysis of the national economic accounts, especially to understand household income, expenditure and wealth.

  • Further accounts linked to the national accounts, including the UK Environmental Accounts and valuing household production and 'human capital'.

  • Quality of life measures, looking at different areas of national well-being such as health, relationships, job satisfaction, economic security, education environmental conditions.

  • Working with others to include the measurement of the well-being of children and young people as part of national well-being.

  • Measures of 'personal well-being' - individuals' assessment of their own well-being.

  • Headline indicators to summarise national well-being and the progress we are making as a society.

The programme is underpinned by a communication and engagement workstream, providing links with Cabinet Office and policy departments, international developments, the public and other stakeholders. The programme is working closely with Defra on the measurement of 'sustainable development' to provide a complete picture of national well-being, progress and sustainable development.

Find out more on the Measuring National Well-being website pages.


Arnett, J.J, (2004) Emerging Adulthood; The Winding Road from Late Teens through the Twenties, New York, Oxford University Press

Beaumont, J., Lofts, H., (2013c) Measuring National Well-being - Health, ONS.

Croll, P and Fuller, C., (2012) Understanding Young People’s Aspirations.

Department for Education (2012) Business plan key measures

Deputy Prime Minister’s Office (2011) Social Mobility Strategy

Diener, E., Sandvik, E., Seidlitz. L., Diener, M. (1993) The relationship between income and subjective well-being: Relative or absolute?

Donovan, R., (2014c) Young People in the Labour Market ONS

Health Scotland (2008) Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale.

Health Survey for England (2012) Trend tables.

Helliwell, J.F., Putnam, R.D., (2004) The Social Context of Wellbeing.

Humby, P., (2013d) An Analysis of Under 18 Conceptions and their Links to Measures of Deprivation, England and Wales, 2008-10 ONS

Jackson, C., (2007) The General Health Questionnaire.

Loughton, T. (2010) Speech to the Fatherhood Institute.

Marks, N. (2008) The New Economics Foundation’s Five Ways to Well-being.

Mental Health Foundation: Children and Young People.

Michaelson, J., Abdullah, S., Steuer, N., Thompson, S., and Marks, N., (2009) National Accounts of Well-being - bringing real wealth onto the balance sheet, London, NEF.

Money Advice Service (2013) Indebted lives: the complexities of life in debt.

National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing (2012) A Charter for Arts, Health and Wellbeing.

OECD (2009) Special Focus: Measuring Leisure in OECD Countries.

Oguz, S., Merad, S., Snape, D., (2013b) Measuring National Well-being – What matters most to Personal Well-being? ONS 2013.

ONS (2012b) Consultation on proposed domains and measures of national well-being: responses received.

ONS (2013a) Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2001 to Mid-2010 Revised.

ONS (2014a) Statistical Release: Young adults living with parents.

ONS (2014b) Vacancies and Unemployment

ONS (2013e) Statistical Release: The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income 2011/12.

Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment (2013) Research evidence relating to proposals for reform of the GCSE

Randall, C., (2012a) Measuring National Well-being – Our Relationships ONS.

Sabates, R., Hammond, C., (2008) The Impact of Lifelong Learning on Happiness and Well-being.

Seddon, C., (2012c) Measuring National Well-being – Personal Finance, ONS.

Sport England Sport and Health.

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The King’s Fund Life Expectancy.

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Background notes

  1. Authors: Rachel Beardsmore and Helen Lofts
  2. The four main estimates of personal well-being are based on data from the Annual Population Survey (APS) which includes responses from around 165,000 people. This provides a large representative sample of adults aged 16 and over who live in residential households in the UK.  These questions allow people to make an assessment of their life overall, as well as providing an indication of their day-to-day emotions. Although 'yesterday' may not be a typical day for any one individual, the large sample means that these differences 'average out' and provide a reliable assessment of the anxiety and happiness of the adult population in the UK over the year.
  3. Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study

    Understanding Society is a unique and valuable academic study that captures important information every year about the social and economic circumstances and attitudes of people living in 40,000 UK households. It also collects additional health information from around 20,000 of the people who take part.
    Information from the longitudinal survey is primarily used by academics, researchers and policy makers in their work, but the findings are of interest to a much wider group of people including those working in the third sector, health practitioners, business, the media and the general public.

    Key facts

    • 40,000 households – 2,640 postcode sectors in England, Scotland and Wales – 2,400 addresses from Northern Ireland

    • £48.9 million funding (until 2015)

    • Approximately 3 billion data points of information

    • Innovation Panel of 1,500 respondents

    • Participants aged 10 and older

    • Building on 18 years of British Household Panel Survey

    • 35-60 minutes: the average time to complete each face to face interview

    How does it work?

    Interviews began in 2009 with all eligible members of the selected households.

    • Adults are interviewed every 12 months either face to face or over the phone using Computer Assisted Interviewing.

    • 10 to15 year olds fill in a paper self-completion questionnaire.
      From 2010 some 20,000 participants aged over 16 also received nurse visits and provided a blood sample and some basic physical measurements (height, weight, blood pressure, grip strength).

    Data used in this analysis

    The data in this analysis is from the adult self completion questionnaire of Waves 1-3 of the Survey and has been weighted using the cross-sectional adult main interview weight.
    More information about the UKHLS.

  4. Art and cultural activities include: heritage, museums, galleries, libraries and arts (includes attending e.g. theatre, and participating, e.g. painting).

  5. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

Get all the tables for this publication in the data section of this publication .
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