The Girlguiding Girl’s Attitudes Survey has revealed that girls’ happiness levels have significantly declined over the past 15 years, with only 17 per cent of girls aged 7-21 saying they feel very happy, compared to 40 per cent in 2009. Indeed, 89 per cent of girls and young women feel generally worried or anxious.

For 15 years, Girlguiding has released its annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey documenting how girls feel about their everyday lives, the pressures they face and the issues they care about. This year’s findings reveal there are areas in girls’ lives that are worse than when the survey began in 2009, and they’re less happy, with girls’ worries ranging from appearance pressures, online harms to being sexually harassed.

Appearance pressures
In 2009, 72% of girls aged 7-21 said they are happy with how they looked. Sadly, this has fallen to 59% in 2023. 68% of girls aged 11-21 have said they’d like to lose weight and half have been on a diet (53%) or skipped a meal to lose weight (48%). A third of girls said they would consider plastic surgery, which has risen over the last 5 years (34% in 2023 compared to 29% in 2018).

Worryingly, 62% of girls and young women aged 7-21 report being criticised or have had mean things said about how they look, compared to 49% in 2016. Over two-thirds of girls (67%) say they sometimes feel ashamed of the way they look because they’re not like girls and women they see in the media and online. 39% aged 11-21 state that seeing images online where people are edited to look perfect, makes them feel bad about they look and feel.

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). 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 7 are also experiencing harms online. 44% said strangers have messaged them or sent friend requests while playing games online and 30% have been contacted by someone they don’t know online, compared to 16% in 2016.

A quarter of girls aged 7-10 say they’ve experienced online bullying, such as receiving mean comments or trolling (25%), an increase from 13% in 2016. Almost one fifth of girls aged 7-10 also reported that comments were made to them about their body online (19%), which has more than doubled from 8% in 2016.

Sexual Harassment
Almost 3 in 5 girls aged 13-21 worry about being sexually harassed at school, in public or online (59%). 44% of girls aged 11-21 say 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 have made comments about girls and women that have made them feel scared for their safety. Concerningly just 1 in 4 girls (27%) believe that sexist comments are dealt with seriously at school.

When asked about their future, 48% of girls and young women aged 11-16 believe it’ll be harder for them to get a job when they leave education than it was for young people 5 years ago.

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

Interestingly, girls’ aspirations have changed over the last 15 years. When thinking about what they’d like to achieve by the age of 30, girls aged 7-21 place the greatest value on owning (their) own house (52%), over having a partner or being married (48%) or having a worthwhile job (42%).

In 2009 for over half (60%) of girls having a partner or being married was their top priority. The desire to have children by the age of 30 has also dropped significantly from 47% in 2009 to 33% in 2023).  

Angela Salt, CEO of Girlguiding, said: “It’s devastating to hear that girls’ happiness has steadily declined over the last 15 years. It’s clear girls are feeling pressures from all angles, from harm online, to appearance pressures to sexual harassment at school.

“Now more than ever Girlguiding, powered by volunteers, has an invaluable role to play in continuing to support girls’ wellbeing and confidence, and we’re proud to be able to offer a space where girls can be themselves and have fun – all whilst developing essential skills for their future, helping to build resilience to navigate this difficult time and the relentless pressures they face.”

Girlguiding is calling on the UK government to take urgent action to revert the decline in girls’ happiness and support girls with their wellbeing. Girlguiding would like to see more action to improve girls’ lives by addressing the sexual harassment, online harms and appearance pressures they face.

Marie-Claire Isaaman, CEO of Women in Games, offered: “This report makes for heartbreaking reading. The fact that girls and young women are more unhappy than ever is a tragedy and we must all pull together to make this change. Online abuse and harassment is cited as an issue in the Girlguiding report, and we know that this is a problem for women and girls of all ages. Our mission is to bring about change and, as outlined in our recent Manifesto, this is a priority area for Women in Games.”