UK graduates ‘less likely to be happy’ than general population

Comparison of data from Graduate Outcomes survey and wider population also suggests university leavers are more anxious

December 9, 2020
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Graduates from the UK are less likely to say they are happy and appear to be more anxious than the general population, according to a new analysis of data from a large-scale survey of university leavers.

The analysis from the Office for Students compared responses on well-being from the new Graduate Outcomes survey – which speaks to leavers 15 months after graduation – and the UK’s Annual Population Survey.

It found that for happiness, all graduate groups were less likely than the general population to score very highly, but particularly those who had been full-time undergraduates. For this group, less than 30 per cent said they were very happy compared with more than 35 per cent among the general population.

The analysis discovered similar findings for life satisfaction, with only those who had been part-time postgraduates having a slightly bigger percentage scoring highly compared with the general population, at just over 30 per cent. Again, leavers from full-time undergraduate courses had the lowest percentage at less than a quarter.

There were also stark differences in the proportion in each survey scoring very low for anxiety: more than 40 per cent of the general population gave a very low score when asked if they felt anxious, a proportion that was nearer a quarter for graduates of full-time courses.

The analysis does say that it “should not be assumed that any differences between the results for the graduates and the general population are due solely to the fact that the former consists entirely of graduates”.

“Differences could be due to any number of factors, including the way in which the two surveys were collected, ie, face to face, online or over the telephone, and also the fact that the general population covers a broader age range.”

Other findings in the report also point to older graduates of full-time undergraduate courses being more likely to be happy and less anxious. For example, around 30 per cent of former undergraduates aged 21 to 25 scored their happiness as very high compared with more than 35 per cent for those aged 31 and older.

Among different ethnic groups, the percentages for those reporting very high life satisfaction are greatest for white graduates compared with those of other ethnicities, but black graduates were the most likely to report high levels of happiness.

Across all graduates, those who were unemployed had the smallest percentages of those scoring very highly for life satisfaction and happiness, significantly below those with a job or who had continued to study.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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