Relationships and the state of the nation
Measuring how the UK is doing
Since World War 2 we have been measuring national success in terms of economic output, expressed first as gross national product and later as gross domestic product (GDP). For many years GDP has been used as a proxy for wellbeing, however by only measuring the GDP you exclude factors such as social relations and health, while including economic factors that can reduce wellbeing such as crime, war and pollution – all of which cause people to spend money, which, in turn, increases GDP.
However, as the saying goes, money doesn’t buy happiness. Economists and national leaders have been talking about measuring a country’s status with other metrics, such as the concept of ‘happiness’, for a number of years. In 2009 French President Nicholas Sarkozy commissioned a study for an alternative to GDP led by Nobel Prize winning economists Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz. In 2011 the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), made up of the worlds’ wealthy nations, followed with a ‘How’s Life?’ report on wellbeing in its member countries.
You manage what you measure – better measures lead to better policies and better lives
In 2011 Sir Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service spoke at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics and stressed the importance of measuring ‘what matters’. During his speech he used the phrase ‘if you treasure it, measure it’. Thus began programme of work by the Office of National Statistics aimed at producing an accepted and trusted bank of data to help people understand and monitor national wellbeing, or in other words, how the UK is fairing as a whole.
As part of the programme, four measures of individual wellbeing were developed. Since April 2011 these have been collected from respondents to the Annual Population Survey. At the end of May, an analysis of what matters most to personal wellbeing was published (ONS, 2013). This analysis focuses on four questions:
- Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
- Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
- Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
- Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
A statistical technique – regression analysis – which analyses variation in wellbeing by specific characteristics and circumstances of individuals while holding other characteristics equal, was used. This allows for a better understanding of what matters most. Thirteen other factors – including age, gender, religion and the presence of children were also tested. The results showed that health was the most important factor associated with personal wellbeing, followed by their employment status and their relationship status.
The analysis looked at current relationship status to explore whether being married / in a civil partnership, divorced, separated, single or widowed impacts of personal wellbeing when other factors are held as equal. People who are married or in civil partnership gave a higher rating for ‘life satisfaction‘ that is, they feel that the things they do in their lives are ‘worthwhile’ and for their ‘happiness yesterday’ and rated their ‘level of anxiety yesterday’ lower than those in the other relationship categories. This research confirms what One Plus One research and other studies have shown – that relationships play a vital part in wellbeing.
Relationship quality is the key to improving wellbeing
Understanding the reasons why relationships matter helps us explore what more could be done, to improve wellbeing. New research published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family shares two important aspects of relationships to consider – the negative impact relationship problems can play in our own lives, and the impact these problems can have on our children and the enormous benefits that an emotionally close relationship can have in protecting us all against the harmful effects of stress.
New research is continually expanding our understanding of the effects of relationship quality in improving our physical and mental health, our work engagement and employability. Here at One Plus One we continue to share our knowledge and passion in raising the importance that relationships contribute to wellbeing, not just our own, but to everyone we share our life with.