It is hardly a surprise to be told, as we were this week by the Office for National Statistics, that having good friendships and relationships improves our quality of life.

Last Tuesday, it was announced that out of the respondents to a recent ONS survey reporting high levels of satisfaction with life, 84.2% said they had high levels of satisfaction with their personal relationships.

Despite sometimes reinforcing the already apparent, these new results from the ONS Measuring National Wellbeing programme (or “David Cameron’s Happiness Agenda” as it Labour have dubbed it) are interesting – simultaneously providing an indication of our nation’s wellbeing whilst failing to capture the important impact of variations in age and situation.

For example:

  • Approximately  1 in 20 adults aged over 16 feel “completely lonely” in their daily lives (this was 4.5% of survey respondents)

Whilst this is probably useful to know, it is disappointing that there is no further break-down of to this question as it would be beneficial to compare self-reporting of loneliness across different age groups.

It is likely that more of the older respondents would report feeling completely lonely in their daily lives, as other research has found around 8-10% of those aged 65 in Britain felt lonely all or most of the time – a proper breakdown could help us measure changes to this older figure.

Another example:

  • Older age groups are more likely to report trust in people their neighbourhood than younger age groups. 91% of 65-74s reported that “many or some people” could be trusted in their neighbourhood compared to 72% of 16-24s
  • The proportion of people who felt strongly that they belonged to a neighbourhood also changes with age – 87% of those aged over 65 “felt strongly that they belonged to their neighbourhood” compared to 66% of 25-34 year olds

These statistics are positive but both questions unfortunately fail to capture that where you live (for example in a rural or urban population) can have a big impact on our wellbeing and vulnerability to loneliness.

As Professor Thomas Scharf explained in our launch publication, Safeguarding the Convoy urban areas create a higher risk of loneliness in older age because cities are designed around the needs of younger people, high population turnover makes it “difficult to keep longstanding connections” and crime or anti-social behaviour can become an obstacle to getting out and about.

So, whilst we welcome attempts to measure the different aspects of wellbeing we must also continue to seek the context and remember that loneliness is (and will always be) a very individualised emotional experience.