Today we publish a summary report led by our Communities Evidence Programme that looks at how local area factors can be associated with individual’s self-reported wellbeing; perceived social cohesion; and sense of attachment to one’s community.

Key findings

The wellbeing of residents in a local area is likely to be influenced by community conditions in ways that are independent of the individual attributes of the residents themselves.


People’s level of wellbeing, and changes in their wellbeing, over time can be associated with aspects of deprivation at the neighbourhood level, as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation, which incorporates seven domains of deprivation: 

  • income deprivation 
  • employment deprivation 
  • health deprivation and disability
  • education skills and training deprivation
  • barriers to housing and services 
  • living environment deprivation 
  • crime. 

This holds true even after allowing for their personal attributes and situations. 

In particular, people in areas with the most advantaged socioeconomic conditions had better wellbeing in 2012-13 than those in the most disadvantaged areas. Again, this holds despite taking into account their individual level of advantage or disadvantage. 

People in disadvantaged areas also reported less positive relative change in wellbeing between the USS survey waves starting in 2012 and in 2015, after allowing for personal circumstances.  Some domains of the 2010 Index of Multiple Deprivation, including income, employment, crime and living conditions appear to be more relevant for predicting wellbeing than others, which will be the subject of subsequent research.

This complements existing evidence which finds that lower average income, higher unemployment and perceptions of anti-social behaviour in a place correlate with lower levels of life satisfaction at the individual level. Other studies also show that at the area level, lower incomes and higher unemployment are also associated with higher levels of wellbeing inequalities within areas.

Those living in more deprived areas as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation reported lower levels of social cohesion in their area and weaker sense of attachment to their neighbourhoods. 

In areas with higher (i.e. worse) Social Fragmentation Scores, people were also likely to report lower cohesion and attachment to their neighbourhoods. Social fragmentation is an umbrella term meaning relatively low levels of community integration and cohesion. To measure it at area level, we use a proxy called the Social Fragmentation Index. In this Index, social fragmentation is higher in areas with high numbers of non-family households – for example, one person households, unmarried adults; and high residential turnover associated with short-stay housing.


Perception of social cohesion and sense of attachment to one’s neighbourhood (recorded in the USS survey wave starting 2011) were positively associated with wellbeing (reported in survey waves starting 2012 and 2015).

What personal factors impact our wellbeing?

The analysis to identify whether neighbourhood factors have an impact took into account the variation in people’s level of wellbeing due to their personal attributes. The analysis of individual attributes complemented existing research, showing that wellbeing scores are higher for those who are:

  • under 29 or over 49 in 2012, compared with those aged 30-39
  • living with a partner, either a spouse or unmarried 
  • in the most privileged social class
  • receiving a higher household income in the month prior to interview
  • owner occupiers, either with a mortgage, or outright owners, in 2012 and 2015
  • identifying as a member of a ‘black African or Caribbean’ ethnic group as opposed to ‘white British’ or other ‘white’ ethnic groups. It is important to note that ethnicity is coded in very broad categories for this analysis.

How can we turn this evidence into action? 

  1. To promote greater equality of wellbeing, attention from policy makers at the national and local levels needs to be focused on more deprived areas. Inequalities in wellbeing across England are associated with deprivation of local communities. This research shows that area deprivation, as well as residents’ own personal circumstances, impacts on wellbeing of local residents. These area inequalities persisted over the period 2011-15.
  2. Projects, programmes, and policies to reduce inequalities in wellbeing should consider the combination of social and economic factors.
  3. Sense of social cohesion, attachment to one’s neighbourhood and self reported wellbeing are interrelated, so it could be especially important to improve wellbeing in deprived and socially fragmented areas. This could mean: 
    • trial projects to compare economic and community integration or cohesion approaches to improving quality of life
    • understand more about ‘what works’ to build cohesion in more socially fragmented communities where some groups may find it hard to connect to others – can we do more to help them ‘find unlikely friends’?

Examples include looking at the impact that technology and connectivity can have on a place. Investments can be designed to target deprived communities offering both a social and economic benefit, but such interventions can help to enhance place-based social cohesion, or in contrast serve to unconnect people from their localities, depending on local conditions and community behaviours. See also the scoping review of the evidence for what works to boost social relations and its relationship to community wellbeing.

Measure what matters at the community level

Indices of Multiple Deprivation (published in 2010 and 2015) may be considered useful proxies of local conditions associated with variation in wellbeing at the local level in England. Also, the Social Fragmentation Index relates to local variation in individuals’ sense of neighbourhood cohesion and attachment to their local community. 

For more data at the community level, the Thriving Places Index includes a range of indicators at the local authority level which measure local conditions, sustainability and equality.