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Where in France are people happiest - and what makes them happy?

Life satisfaction peaks at age 50-65, living in western France helps, and those with no kids are happier, a study found

An older couple sitting together on a beach

Couples, those aged 50-65, without kids, and living on the west coast are among those to report the highest life satisfaction levels in France, a vast new population study has shown Pic: Ruslan Huzau / Shutterstock

Being in a couple, without kids, aged 50-65, and living in the west of the country makes people in France the happiest, a new major French study shows. Covid, unsurprisingly, caused happiness to dip.

In a newly-published, vast population study carried out before the pandemic, people in France scored their happiness at an average of 7.4 out of 10, showed l’Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (Insee).

Perhaps predictably, being young, in good health, employed, and having disposable income made people happier. 

But the study also showed some slightly less obvious, more intriguing findings.

Life satisfaction peaks at 50-65

The study showed that happiness peaks at the end of adolescence and continues to decline until age 50 – but at 50, it rises again and peaks before age 65, before declining again by age 80.

Living in the west of France

The happiest regions and cities were those in the west coast of the country (0.04 points higher). Happiness levels were higher from the Pyrénées‑Atlantiques to Finistère, with the exception of Morbihan.

Being French at birth

People living in France who were French at birth are slightly happier than people of foreign nationality at birth, or who acquired French nationality after their birth (0.3 points and 0.2 points happier respectively).

Non-French people happier in areas where there are fewer of them

People living in France who were not French at birth are happier in areas where the proportion of non-French people is lowest (0.2 points in the places with the least foreigners, compared to areas in which there are more immigrants).

Being in a couple, with no children

Being in a good relationship improved happiness levels, the study showed, but found that those without children were likely to be more content. 

Stéphane Legleye, head of household living conditions at Insee, told Le Parisien: “Children are a joy when they arrive. But once you live with them, after the wonder has passed, they become a burden, especially in terms of organisation.”

Living in Paris and similar-sized cities and towns reduces happiness

Satisfaction levels are lower in Paris and in the outskirts of very large towns, such as Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lyon or Marseille, the study said. 

General satisfaction is highest in towns and surroundings with 200,000 to 700,000 inhabitants, although satisfaction dips on the outskirts of some medium-sized towns too, including Béziers, Blois and Montélimar.

Men find more happiness in hobbies, women more in social relationships

Men are more likely to be satisfied by their hobbies and work (up 0.38 and 0.10 points respectively), while women report more happiness from regular visits to their friends and family (up 0.12). This may be because of social pressure, however, Insee said, rather than inherent gender differences.

Happiness levels began to dip in many places from 2017-2019 compared to 2010-2012

Happiness levels dropped in 2017-2019 in comparison by 0.14-0.23 points in Grand Est, Hauts-de-France, Brittany, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur and Nouvelle-Aquitaine; and by 0.23-0.34 points in Normandy, Pays de la Loire, and Centre-Val-de-Loire.

Satisfaction levels remained stable over the same time frame in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Ile-de-France, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, and Occitanie. 

Only in Corsica did happiness levels rise by up to 0.33 points.

General satisfaction levels of life by region, between the years 2010-2012 and 2017-2019

Pic: Insee

Pandemic anxiety

The pandemic has had a marked effect on happiness, however, Insee said, looking at figures to the beginning of 2021.

In contrast to pre-pandemic studies, when average satisfaction was at 7.3 out of 10 in 2019, and 7.2 out of 10 in early 2020, the average result dropped to around 6.8 afterwards.

This is the lowest mark recorded by Insee since it started using the measure in 2010 (with 1 being “not at all satisfied” and 10 being “entirely satisfied”). 

Usually, the score oscillates between 7.1 and 7.5.

Insee said that the considerable drop was linked to "lifestyle changes" and "anxiety" due to the pandemic, and had been felt "at all ages and in all social categories".

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