Girls' Happiness Levels At 'Devastating' All-Time Low – Here's Why

The number of girls who described themselves as ‘very happy’ plummeted between 2009 and 2023.
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Girls’ happiness levels have reached an all-time low, according to a report by Girlguiding.

The charity’s annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey – which documents how girls feel about their everyday lives, the pressures they face and the issues they care about – found there’s been a steady decline in girls’ happiness year on year and an increase in stress and anxiety since 2009.

The number of girls who described themselves as ‘very happy’ has decreased significantly – from 40% in 2009 to 17% in 2023. The steepest decline was seen in girls aged seven to 10 years old.

Angela Salt, CEO of the charity, called the findings “devastating,” while Girlguiding advocate Megan, 21, said they are “not surprising.”

So, what’s impacting their happiness levels?

Appearance pressures

In 2009, 72% of girls aged 7-21 said they were happy with how they looked. Sadly, this has fallen to 59% in 2023.

Just over two-thirds (68%) of girls aged 11-21 said they’d like to lose weight and around half (53%) have been on a diet or skipped a meal to lose weight (48%).

A third of girls said they would consider plastic surgery, which has risen over the last five years (34% in 2023 compared to 29% in 2018).

Almost two-thirds (62%) of girls and young women aged 7-21 reported being criticised or on the receiving end of negative comments about how they look, compared to 49% in 2016.

Online harms

Almost all girls in the UK have experienced some form of threatening or upsetting behaviour online (81% of girls aged 11-21 compared to 65% in 2018).

An alarming 83% of girls aged 13-21 reported seeing upsetting content, such as self-harm or suicide, and 73% have received unwanted sexual images.

The number of 13–21-year-old girls who have received sexist comments online has more than doubled since 2018 (57% compared to 24%).

Unsurprisingly, 41% of girls aged 11-21 revealed they often feel sad or depressed after spending time online and on social media.

Worryingly, girls as young as seven are also experiencing harms online – 44% said strangers had messaged them or sent friend requests while playing games online.

A quarter (25%) of girls aged 7-10 said they’ve experienced online bullying, such as receiving mean comments or trolling – an increase from 13% in 2016.

Sexual harassment

Almost three in five girls aged 13-21 worry about being sexually harassed at school, in public or online (59%). And 44% of girls aged 11-21 said they have been shouted or whistled at on the street on the way to and from school.

At school, 69% of girls said boys have made comments about girls and women that they would describe as ‘toxic’.

More than two in five girls (44%) revealed boys at their school had made comments about girls and women that made them feel scared for their safety.


When asked about their future, 48% of girls and young women aged 11-16 said it’ll be harder for them to get a job when they leave education than it was for young people five years ago.

Over half of girls and young women aged 11-21 (59%) worried they will not be able to afford a home in the future.


One glimmer of hope is that just over a third (35%) of girls and young women aged 7-21 feel part of their local community compared to 29% in 2011.

The charity said 38% of girls aged 7-21 have done something to help a neighbour in the last year and three quarters (75%) of girls aged 11-21 are involved in their communities in a voluntary capacity.

Girlguiding said more action needs to be taken to improve girls’ lives by addressing the sexual harassment, online harms and appearance pressures they face.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Childline told The Guardian the survey’s findings are “sobering” and “echo the concerns” that its counsellors hear on a daily basis.