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Is there a difference in well-being between young men and young women?

Young women in the UK report higher levels of anxiety than young men but are more likely to think the things they do in life are worthwhile

In March 2014, ONS proposed a draft set of measures of national well-being for young people aged 16 to 24. Work on this is ongoing and we will publish an update taking into account data availability and ongoing feedback. The figures detailed in this article are an initial analysis of selected draft measures of young people’s well-being which considers whether there is a difference between young men and young women.

At first glance young men and women seem to have similar levels of personal well-being. There was no difference between the proportion of men and women aged 16 to 24 who reported high levels of satisfaction with life and happiness yesterday in 2012/13. Also, in 2011-12 the measure of population mental well-being, SWEMWEBS, was the same for young men and women.

But the similarities in aggregated personal well-being mask differences in many of the measures for young people that can affect their well-being. In 2012/13, young women were more likely to report that the things they do are worthwhile (81% compared with 77% of young men), whereas young men were more likely to report low levels of anxiety yesterday (66% compared with 63% of young women).

Young men are more likely to be satisfied with their health than young women

In the UK in 2011-12, a smaller proportion of young women reported being relatively satisfied with their health than young men (63% compared with 69%). Furthermore, young women are more likely to report some symptoms of depression or anxiety than young men (26% compared with 16%). However, it may be that men under-report symptoms of depression or anxiety. As the Mental Health Foundation explains, “men are often particularly reluctant to talk about emotional issues”.

Young women, though, are more likely to have someone they can rely on than young men (86% compared with 78%). The Mental Health Foundation states “friendship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health... Friends form one of the foundations of our ability to cope with the problems that life throws at us.” Having a stronger support network may mean that young women report higher levels of personal well-being than might be expected from their lower levels of satisfaction with their health and higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Figure 1: Differences in selected health and relationship well-being measures for young people by gender, UK, 2011/12

Figure 1: Differences in selected health and relationship well-being measures for young people by gender, UK, 2011/12

Notes:

  1. Source: Understanding Society

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Young women attain higher levels of education than young men

Education is positively associated with life satisfaction. It equips young people for the future and may contribute to better emotional and physical health. Statistics from the Department for Education show that in England attainment by age 19 at both National Qualifications Framework Level 2 and Level 3 was higher for women than for men. In 2012, 86.6% of young women had attained Level 2 by age 19, compared with 80.9% of young men, a difference of 5.7 percentage points.

However, “the ‘attainment gap’ between males and females reduced by 0.6 percentage points between 2011 and 2012, continuing the long term trend which has seen the gap reducing each year since 2005”, according to the Department for Education. At Level 3, the attainment gap is larger as 59.2% of young women had attained Level 3 by age 19 in 2012, compared with 51.0% of young men, a gap of 8.3 percentage points.

Furthermore, statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that a higher proportion of women students obtained a first or upper second class first degree than men in 2012/13 (70% compared with 65%).

Young men are more satisfied with their income than young women

Although a higher proportion of young women have qualifications than young men, it does not mean that young women have comparable financial well-being to men. In 2011-12, men aged 16 to 24 were more likely to report being satisfied with their household income than women aged 16 to 24 (55% compared with 49%).

In 2011-12, young women were less likely than young men to report that they are living comfortably (22% compared with 26%). This may be because a higher proportion of lone parent households are headed by a woman. Also, men tend to have higher pay than women and are more likely to be employed on a full-time basis. Nevertheless, a comparable proportion of young men and women (11% compared with 12%) reported that they found managing financially difficult or very difficult.

Figure 2: Differences in selected education and finance well-being measures for young people by gender

Figure 2: Differences in selected education and finance well-being measures for young people by gender

Notes:

  1. Attained NQF Levels are for England in 2012
  2. Subjective measures of financial well-being are for the UK in 2011-12
  3. Sources: Department for Education; Understanding Society

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Where can I find out more about well-being statistics?

These statistics are 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. This analysis supplements the development of well-being measures for young people and children. If you would like to find out more about the Measuring National Well-being programme, view the Measuring National Well-being pages.  If you have any comments or suggestions, we would like to hear them! Please email us at: nationalwell-being@ons.gov.uk

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Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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