Are graduates really happier on Saturday?

New HESA research explores a surprising factor contributing to graduate survey responses

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

One of the strengths of HESA’s Graduate Outcomes survey is that it looks beyond employment and further study to other – more thoughtful – measures.

The survey incorporates four measures of subjective wellbeing – asking graduates:

  • How anxious did you feel yesterday?
  • How happy did you feel yesterday?
  • To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  • How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?

Avid Wonkhe readers will note that these questions do not directly relate to a person’s experience of being a graduate – and could more accurately be understood as a person’s experience of being an adult. Indeed, these four questions come directly from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Annual Population Survey – allowing us to benchmark graduate subjective wellbeing against general population comparators.

You’ll note that whereas the latter two questions invite the respondent to make an overall evaluation of their attitude to life, the former relate to recently experienced emotions – specifically how they felt “yesterday”. And, as today’s HESA research highlights, not all yesterdays are equal.

There is a literature on this question as it relates to survey administration, but the findings are intuitive. People who completed the survey on a Sunday are more likely to report being happy yesterday than those who completed the survey on any other day. There is a very slight rise in reported life satisfaction and feelings of worth over the weekend too, but the effect is most striking for happiness.

With the question relating to “yesterday”, you might expect the highest reported happiness scores on Sunday (relating to a Saturday) and Monday (relating to a Sunday). This is the case, but Saturday (relating to a Friday) is also up there – suggesting many graduates know how to have a good Friday night. If you are reading this as a graduate about to complete their Graduate Outcomes survey, Today (Wednesday) has seen graduates reporting a lower level of happiness than any other day of the week.

On one level this has more than a hint of late 00s science journalism – statistical proof that Rebecca Black was right and everybody really is looking forward to the weekend, weekend. But there is a serious point too.

If you are going to administer surveys to people, you need to be sure that the responses you collect are measuring the things that you assume they are. If the answers are affected by the way the questions are asked, by whether they are asked on the phone or online, or by which day they are given – there may be a problem.

In HESA’s case, ongoing work on using happiness as a marker for a “good” job will focus more on life satisfaction measures as a result of these findings.

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