Previous research has shown that the amount and quality of social connections with people around us are vitally important to an individual’s well-being and should be considered when making any assessment of National Well-being.
‘Social connections, including marriage, of course, but not limited to that, are among the most robust correlates of subjective well-being. 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’ (Helliwell and Putnam, 2004).
‘The frequency of contact with others and the quality of personal relationships are crucial determinants of people’s well-being’ (Kahneman and Krueger, 2006).
This article will further explore relationships with family, friends, relationships within the wider community and relationships within the workplace. It will also focus on our satisfaction with our social life, and loneliness.Back to table of contents
Relationships with family
Just under a third (32%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK who were married or in a civil partnership rated their satisfaction with life as very high (9 to 10 out of 10) in 2013–14
The average (mean) rating of family life given by adults aged 18 and over in the UK in 2011 was 8.2 out of 10
Money worries were reported as the main factor that puts a strain on a relationship by 62% of people aged 16 and over in the UK in 2014
In 2010/11, 87% of people in the UK reported that they had someone to rely on if they had a serious problem
Relationships with friends
Over half (53%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK in 2011/12 reported that all their friends were of the same ethnic group. A third (33%) reported that all their friends were of a similar age while 39% reported their friends had a similar level of education.
Around 9 in 10 adults aged 16 and over in the UK in 2011/12 had one or more friends that they could confide in (93%), supported them (92%) or they could escape with/have fun with (90%).
Relationships within the community
Over half (55%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK agreed or strongly agreed that friendships and associations with other people in their community meant a lot to them.
In England in 2013–14, 85% of people aged 16 and over agreed that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together.
Relationships at work
Of adults aged 16 and over in the UK in full-time work, 62% were about as likely to have daily contact with their work colleagues than with their children.
Just under two-thirds (64%) of employees in the UK reported the relationship between themselves and their managers as good or very good, while 13% reported relations as poor or very poor.
Social life and loneliness
Adults aged 18 and over in the UK reported their average (mean) rating of satisfaction with their social life as 7.1 out of 10 in 2011.
In the UK in 2011, 36% of adults aged 18 and over wished they could spend more time with their family and 36% more time with their friends.
In April and June 2014, over half (53%) of people in Great Britain reported some feeling of loneliness (answers of 1 or more out of 10).
‘Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important’ (Barack Obama, 2008).
Strong family relationships can give the support needed to make it through difficult times and, in turn may improve the well-being of all family members.
According to 2011 Census data, under half (47%) of all adults aged 16 and over in the UK were married or in a registered same-sex civil partnership, while 3% were separated (but still legally married). Just over a third (35%) were single (never married), 9% were divorced and 7% were widowed or their civil partner had died.
Figure 1: Legal marital status of population aged 16 and over for the UK and constituent countries, 2011 (1,2)
- Percentages in the category ‘In a registered same-sex civil partnership’ were very small for all four UK countries ranging from: 0.09 per cent (Northern Ireland) to 0.23 per cent (England).
- Census 2011 table DC1107EW, NISRA table DC1103NI and NRS table KS103SC were used to produce this chart.
Figure 1 summarises the marital status patterns, for adults aged 16 and over, of the four UK countries. The proportions of single and married people varied little between the countries and almost half (45% to 48%) of the populations of all four countries were married. The proportions of the populations in civil partnerships were highest in England (0.2%). Northern Ireland had the highest proportion separated (4%) and the lowest proportion divorced (5%); by contrast, Wales had the lowest proportion separated (2%) and highest proportion divorced (10%). The proportion widowed varied little across the UK (between 7% in Northern Ireland and 8% in Wales).
Table 1: Life Satisfaction(1): by marital status, 2013–2014 (2)
|United Kingdom % in each category on 11 point scale|
|Low (0–4)||Medium (5–6)||High (7–8)||Very High 9–10|
|Married or Civil partnership||3.4||12.3||52.2||32.2|
|Cohabiting or same sex couple||3.9||14.1||55.9||26.1|
|Widow or surviving civil partner||8.1||20.5||44.4||27.0|
|Divorced or separated or former/ separated civil partner||11.9||23.5||46.2||18.4|
|Source: April 2013 to March 2014, Annual Population Survey Personal Well-being Experimental dataset, Office for National Statistics|
|1. Respondents were asked 'Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? Where 0 is 'not at all satisfied' and 10 is 'completely satisfied'.|
|2. All estimates weighted.|
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The nature of our relationships may have an important influence on personal well-being. According to the Annual Population Survey, people who are married or in a civil partnership were more likely to rate their satisfaction with life as very high (9 to 10 out of 10)1 in 2013–14 (Table 1). Just under a third (32%) of adults aged 16 and over in the UK who were married or in a civil partnership rated their satisfaction with life as very high. This compared to 26% who were cohabiting or same sex couples and 21% who were single. Conversely those who were divorced or separated were more likely to have a low (0 to 4) rating of life satisfaction at (12%).
The average rating of satisfaction with family life is one of the three measures of National Well-being looked at as part of the ‘Our relationships’ domain. Adults aged 18 and over in the UK were asked on the European Quality of Life Survey to rate their satisfaction with family life. The average (mean) rating in 2011 (the latest data available) was 8.22. This rating is the same as 2007 when the survey was last run, the rating was 8.0 in the 2003 survey.
Although this high satisfaction rating indicates that all may be well in our family relationships, there are many external factors that can put pressure on them.
People aged 16 and over in the UK were asked in a survey published by Relate in 2014 to identify the top three challenges (from a list of 17) to their family relationships. Around three-fifths (62%) of people reported money worries as the main factor that placed the most strain on their relationship (Figure 2). This was followed by working long hours or maintaining a work-life balance (40%), infidelity (36%) and not understanding each other (34%). Just under a quarter (24%) reported that family rows put a strain on their relationship.
Most of us like to know that if we had a problem we could turn to someone. Another headline measure of National Well-being under the ‘Our Relationships’ domain is the proportion of people that had a spouse, family member or friend to rely on if they had a serious problem. According to the 2010/11 UK Household Longitudinal Survey, 87% of adults aged 16 and over did have someone to rely on.
In the UK in 2013, there were an estimated 12 million children aged 0 to 15, making up nearly a fifth of the population. Children require positive, loving relationships with the people closest to them. In the Good Childhood Report 2013, The Children’s Society highlighted the importance of family relationships to children’s subjective well-being. It found that a measure of family harmony was substantially more indicative of children’s well-being than family structure.
The 2011/12 UK Household Longitudinal Survey asked people aged 16 and over how often they and their child(ren) spend time together on leisure activities or outings outside the home. Over a third (36%) of people reported that they spend time together with their children on leisure activities several times a week or almost every day. Just under a third (32%) took their children on outings about once a week, while 16% reported once a month or less or never or rarely.
In 2011/12, around 28% of children aged 10 to 15 years reported quarrelling with their mother more than once a week, according to UK Household Longitudinal Survey data (Figure 3). This compares with 20% of children reporting quarrelling with their father more than once a week; most children reported hardly ever quarrelling with their father (60%). It should be noted that more children live with their mothers than with their fathers, which may explain some of the variation. Nearly all children who reported hardly ever quarrelling with their mother reported the same with their father (91%). However, among those children reporting quarrelling frequently with their mother, around half (51%) reported the same with their father.
Children were more likely to report talking frequently to their mother than to their father about things that matter. In 2011/12, nearly two-thirds (63%) of children aged 10 to 15 years talked to their mother more than once a week about things that matter. This compares with nearly two-fifths (40%) who reported talking to their father. Among children aged 10 to 15 who reported talking with their mother more than once a week about things that matter, 58% also reported talking frequently with their father about things that matter. Around 3 in 20 (15%) children in this age group reported hardly ever talking to either parent about things that matter in 2011/12.
Notes for relationships with family
Where 0 is ‘not at all satisfied’ and 10 is ‘completely satisfied’.
Using a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 indicates ‘very dissatisfied' and 10 indicates 'very satisfied'.
‘The number of real-life friends is positively correlated with subjective well-being even after controlling for income, demographic variables and personality differences’ (Helliwell and Huang, 2013)
Friends provide support and companionship during bad times and can prevent loneliness. Friends can also increase a sense of belonging and purpose and may improve self-confidence and self-worth.
In 2011/12, 95% of adults aged 16 and over in the UK reported having at least one close friend according to the UK Household Longitudinal Survey. Over two-thirds (68%) reported having between 2 and 6 close friends1.
Figure 4 shows the proportion of friends with different characteristics that people aged 16 and over reported they had. Over half (53%) reported that all their friends were of the same ethnic group. A third (33%) reported that all their friends were of a similar age while 39% reported they had a similar level of education. Under a fifth stated that their friends received a similar income or lived in their local area (17% and 14% respectively).
On a survey run by YouGov in 2012, adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement ‘I feel I need a core group of people (people who inspire, mentor me, who I can confide in and who support me) to help me achieve my goals in life (for example, job aspirations and education)’. Nearly half (48%) strongly agreed or tended to agree with the statement, while 43% tended to disagree or strongly disagree with the statement.
Table 2: Characteristics of friends (1): by number of friends, 2012
|Great Britain (Percentages)|
|Number of friends|
|0||1||2||3||4 or more|
|Someone you can confide in||7||17||24||18||34|
|Someone that supports you||8||21||21||15||35|
|Someone you can escape with/have fun with||10||22||21||11||36|
|Someone that inspires you||24||24||22||12||18|
|Someone who will mentor you/guide you||29||31||20||9||11|
|1. Respondents aged 18 and over were asked 'Thinking about your core friends (i.e. those who support and help you to achieve your goals)... Approximately, how many, if any, friends do you have who you feel possess each of the following characteristics? (If you're unsure, please give your best estimate). Fieldwork was 30th March to 2nd April 2012.|
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On the same survey, respondents were asked how many of their friends possessed certain characteristics. Around 9 in 10 had one or more friends that they could confide in (93%) or that supported them (92%) or they could escape with (90%) (Table 2). Just over three-quarters (76%) of people had one or more friend that inspired them and 71% reported that they had one or more friend that would mentor or guide them.
Meeting face-to-face is still the preferred means of personal communication with friends and family, despite the rising use of digital communications according to Ofcom. In 2012, 48% of people in the UK aged 16 and over who made any sort of contact with friends and family did so face-to-face, while 12% did so by a voice call using a fixed landline and a further 12% used email. However, the number of social network users, and the amount of time spent on social networking sites, continues to rise; in 2013, 66% of all internet users were active on a social networking site.
On an online survey by YouGov in 2012, respondents aged 18 and over in Great Britain were asked to approximate how many friends they had on their social media sites, in total. Just under a quarter (24%) reported they had fewer than 50 friends, 12% reported 51 to 100 friends and 10% reported 101 to 150 friends. Just under a quarter (24%) reported having more than 150 friends, and 28% reported that they were not a member of a social media site. However, 27% of those who had social media accounts reported that at least half of these friends were just acquaintances (a person they only see occasionally or don’t know very well). Just 8% stated that none of their friends on these sites were just acquaintances.
Notes for relationships with friends
- Personal relationships are a measure of 'Social Capital' more information can be found here: An Analysis of Social Capital in the UK
‘For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people's love and concern for each other’ (Millard Fuller, Habitat for Humanity founder).
A community can be described as a place where friends, neighbours and strangers live, work, play and experience everyday life. People need to know that they are part of a community. They need to feel that they have others around them that they can connect with and share commonalities. This in turn may contribute to an individual’s sense of well-being1.
In 2011/12, over 6 in 10 (63%) people aged 16 and over agreed or strongly agreed that they belonged to their neighbourhood according to the UK Household Longitudinal Survey (Figure 5). The proportion of people who felt strongly they belonged to a neighbourhood increased by age. Just under half (49%) of those aged 16 to 24 agreed or strongly agreed that they belonged to their neighbourhood compared to 81% of those aged 75 and over. People in Northern Ireland (73%) and Scotland (69%) were more likely to agree that they belonged to their neighbourhood, while those living in London (59%) were least likely to agree.
The 2011/12 UK Household Longitudinal Survey asked adults aged 16 and over whether the friendships and associations they have with other people in their neighbourhood meant a lot to them. Over half (55%) reported that they strongly agreed or agreed with the statement. When split by gender, friendships and associations in the neighbourhood meant a lot to 52% of men compared with 57% of women.
The proportion of people in the UK who strongly agreed or agreed that the friendships and associations they have with other people in their neighbourhood meant a lot to them increased with age (Figure 6). Under half (42%) of people aged 16 to 24 agreed with the statement increasing to nearly three-quarters (73%) of those aged 75 and over.
Taking the time to establish good terms with neighbours in the community may have numerous benefits, such as a friendlier community and a safer neighbourhood which in turn would make it a more comfortable place to live. Three-quarters (75%) of people aged 16 and over in England reported on the 2013–14 Community Life Survey that they chat to their neighbours (more than just to say hello) at least once a month. Just over a fifth (22%) reported that they chat to their neighbours on most days.
A cohesive community is a place where different types of people live and get on well together. It may be a place where there is respect and trust, differences might be celebrated and in turn those living in the community may have a greater sense of belonging. According to the Community Life Survey, 85% of people aged 16 and over in England in 2013–14 thought that their community was cohesive, agreeing that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. There is no significant difference from levels in 2008–09 to 2012–13, but this is a significant increase compared to 2003 when the proportion was 80%.
Figure 7: Community cohesion (1), by age
- 2003 data collected through the Citizenship Survey. Respondents were asked 'To what extent do you agree or disagree that this local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together?' The chart shows those that ‘definitely’ or ‘tended to’ agree with the statement.
The proportion of people in England who reported that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together varied slightly by age group from 84% for those aged 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 to 91% of those aged 75 and over (Figure 7). Between 2003 and 2013–14 there was an increase in the proportion of people who thought that their local area was cohesive in all age groups. These increases were most notable among young people aged 16 to 24 (10 percentage points) and 25 to 34 (7 percentage points).
Notes for relationships within the community
- Neighbourhood social cohesion are measures of Social Capital, more information can be found here: An Analysis of Social Capital in the UK
‘Workplace relationships are unique interpersonal relationships with important implications for the individuals in those relationships and the organizations in which the relationships exist and develop. Various studies conducted in this respect have indicated that workplace relationships directly affect a worker's ability to work and produce’ (Mamta Gaur, School of Business, Galgotias University, 2013).
For many people, a lot of their life is spent in the workplace and therefore in the company of their work colleagues. Good workplace relationships may add to a person’s well-being and also may help productivity.
According to the report The Way We Are Now published by Relate in 2014, the amount of contact between those working full-time with work colleagues and bosses exceeds the amount of contact with many other family members or friends in the UK. The report highlighted that employees aged 16 and over were about as likely to have daily contact with work colleagues (62%) than they were their own children (64%). Over 4 in 10 (44%) were more likely to have daily contact with their bosses than with mothers (26%) or friends (16%)1.
Over half (58%) of people at work had at least one close friend at work with over a fifth (22%) having three or more close friends. However, just over two-fifths (42%) of people in work did not count any colleagues as close friends2.
The quality of the relationship between a manager and employee can significantly impact the performance of the workforce. According to the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey, managers were generally positive about their relationships with their employees with 96% rating their relationships as very good or good in the UK (Figure 8). Just under two-thirds (64%) of employees reported the relationship between themselves and their managers as good or very good, while 13% reported relations as poor or very poor.
Notes for relationships at work
Participants were asked: 'On average, how often, if at all, do you have contact with each of the following people (including face-to-face, via phone, text, email, online etc.)? Of those who were full-time employed, 62%, said that they have contact with their colleagues daily. Of those who were full-time employed and had a relationship with their children, 64% said they had contact with their children daily. Of those who were full-time employed and had a relationship with their mothers, 26% of respondents said they had contact with their mothers daily. Of those who were full-time employed and had a relationship with their boss, 44% reported they had contact with their boss daily.
These figures are based on the response to the question "How many, if any, of your colleagues do you count as close friends? Refers to people in work who did not say that the question was inapplicable (e.g. in cases where they had no colleagues).
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