Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 12:53 UK

Richer, healthier but not happier

By Steve Schifferes
Economics reporter, BBC News

House keys

After 30 years of unprecedented economic growth, the British are richer, healthier - but no happier than in 1973.

The latest Social Trends, the annual survey on the state of the nation from the Office for National Statistics, looks at how Britain has changed over the last few decades.

It shows that household income has gone up by 60%, and household wealth has more than doubled, in the past twenty years.

The main reason for the rise in wealth has been the increase in house prices.

But the growing wealth has not led to greater happiness.

In 1973, 86% of people said they were satisfied with their standard of living, while in 2006 85% were satisfied.

The figures follow trends from around the world that show that happiness and satisfaction do not correlate with average income once countries reach "middle-income" levels.

And one in six UK adults reported that they suffered from a variety of mental health problems in the latest survey, of which the largest category was "mild anxiety and depression."

Growing affluence and inequality

Graph comparing life expectancies of men and women from 1971 and 2006

The amount of goods and services purchased by UK households has risen by two and half times in thirty years.

The biggest proportional increase in spending has not been on basics like food and drink, but on luxury goods, such as mobile phones, travel abroad, recreational activities, and clothes.

But that increase in spending was not evenly distributed among the whole population, with the income of those in the top 10% of the income distribution going up much faster than that of households of the bottom 10%.

In 1979, the real disposable income of the top 10% was three times greater than the real income of those in the bottom 10%, but by 2006 that had grown to four times greater.

And social mobility also appears to have declined, according to studies cited in the report.

Children born in 1958 to poor parents coming to adulthood in the 1970s, were more likely to have moved to a higher part of the income distribution than those born in 1970, who came of age in the new millennium.

And child poverty has remained stubbornly high, with 22% of children living in relative poverty in 2005/6, compared to 27% in 1990/91.

Diverse nation

The UK has become more ethnically diverse in the past few years as its population has grown from 56 million in 1986 to 60 million in 2006.

Eastern European workers picking celery
Recent immigrants from Eastern Europe have provoked controversy

But 90% of the population is still white, compared to 93% in 2001.

The largest ethnic minority group is Asians, with 5% of the population, while blacks make up 3% of the population.

The ethnic population, however, is concentrated in the big cities, especially London, where one-third of the population is non-white.

And it is also younger than the white population, which affects the school age population.

Almost one in five schoolchildren in the UK were from non-white ethnic groups, while over half (53%) in London were non-white.

People from certain ethnic groups, particularly Pakistani and Bangladeshi, were more likely to be in poverty and report ill-health than the average.

Healthier - but more obese

People are living longer, with life expectancy rising to 77 years for men and 82 years for women.

The biggest improvement in the last 30 years has been in the increased life expectancy among older adults, with men aged 65 living, on average, an extra 5 years in 2006 compared to 1971.

This change has dramatically affected pension calculations, as the longer life expectancy has made the provisions of private retirement pension more expensive.

We are living longer, putting strain on pension arrangements

There have been sharp falls in deaths from heart attacks and other circulatory diseases, with mortality rates falling by two-thirds for men and more than half for women since 1971.

There has been less success with cancer, where death rates have fallen more slowly.

And there are new concerns about excess eating and drinking.

The number of alcohol-related deaths in the UK doubled between 1991 and 2006.

And the proportion of people in England classified as obese rose from 14% in 1994 to 24% in 2006 among men, and from 17% to 24% among women.

Cigarette smoking, however, fell sharply, with the proportion of men smoking falling from 50% in 1974 to 25% in 2006, and from 40% to 20% among women.

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