Women no longer the happier sex

Women are now no longer the happier sex Credit: Alamy

It ought to be the best time in history to be a woman - in what is meant to be an age of equal rights, equal pay and the flexibility to combine work and family.

But new figures from what has been nicknamed the UK’s "happiness index", show that, despite greater opportunities in virtually every aspect of life, women are effectively no longer the happier sex.

Previous findings from the Office for National Statistics "well-being" series, championed by David Cameron, have shown women consistently reporting higher average levels of happiness than men.

But the latest batch of data shows that the happiness gap between the sexes has now been all but eliminated.

The figures also show that a steady upward trend in Britons’ overall well-being, seen each year since the study began in 2011, has slowed for the first time.

Under the programme, a sample of the UK population are asked to rate their lives on a scale of nought to 10.

Participants are asked four separate questions: how satisfied they are with their lives overall; whether they feel that what they do is worthwhile; how happy they were the previous day and how anxious they were the previous day.

Although Britons are more satisfied with their life overall than they were last year – ranking their life satisfaction 7.7 out of 10 on average rather than 7.6 -  there has been no overall improvement in the other key measures: happiness, anxiety and self-worth.

Abbie Self, director of Well-being and Inequalities at the ONS, pointed out that it is the first time that the index has not shown an overall improvement in those measures.

It comes despite an improvement in the quality of life, with incomes up, unemployment down, crime falling and people even getting out more to green space, according to official data.

One possibility, the ONS suggested, was the greater “uncertainties” in the world over the last year linked to Brexit, the refugee crisis and a string of terrorist attacks including the Paris atrocities.

But while there was no overall improvement in the happiness measure, the ONS singled out an apparent change in the gap between men and women.

Just three years ago women scored their happiness as 7.34 out of 10 on average, compared with 7.27 for men.

This year, although both sexes are marginally happier overall, men have closed the gap, with an average rating of 7.46 compared to 7.49 for women.

The ONS said the difference was no longer statistically significant.   

It follows warnings that the so-called “do-it-all generation” of women are facing a stress epidemic.

The narrowing gap in happiness between the sexes also mirrors trends seen in other areas in recent years including life expectancy.

Men in the UK are now living healthier lives, in part because of the decline in smoking and heavy manual labour.

But women’s life expectancy has grown less quickly – a trend often attributed to workplace stress and turning to unhealthy  traditionally “male” activities such as drinking and smoking.  

Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Hospital in Roehampton, south-west London, said: “Women have traditionally been happier than men but the female patients I see tend to exhibit more anxiety as they face the pressure of combining work with children and caring for elderly parents.

“Equality in the workplace has undoubtedly been a very good thing, but it has left women facing the more negative aspects of corporate life like high levels of alcohol consumption, stress, fewer hours to run a home and raise a family, and potentially an unhealthy diet.

“Many also struggle with insecurities about their appearances in this social media , youth-obsessed age.”

He added: “I would say that men on the other hand worry considerably less about their appearance and body shape and how people see them, and are generally more ‘cup half full’ about their job prospects and the future.

“Many have outside interests like doing sport, or watching it, which provide emotional diversion.

“For women I would say that is much less the case.”

Football fans from Northern Ireland - the UK's happiest place Credit: Darren Staples/Reuters

The Brexit effect?

But Dr Campbell predicted that next year’s well-being statistics could show the first fall since the series began – as a result of Brexit.

He said: “My patients are very worried about their future and specifically their children's economic security which is adding to their depression. Business uncertainty, the upending of the political establishment, lack of clarity, talk of large organisations moving abroad and the real threat of redundancies, the slide of sterling and how the costs of living may rise: it is a volatile mix and it is worrying people and making them nervous.”

Another Priory psychiatrist even said that 80 per cent of her patients mention withdrawal from the EU during consultations.

Irish eyes are smiling

Meanwhile the latest figures also show that Northern Ireland once again emerges as the happiest part of the UK with Ulstermen and women scoring their happiness at 7.7 out of 10, compared with 7.5 in England and 7.4 in Scotland and Wales.  


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