Middle-aged the most miserable people in Britain, survey shows

Cynical, jaded, suspicious of authority and fed up with the rat race: the middle-aged are the most miserable people in Britain. Frustrated idealism, overwork and tight finances are blamed for demoralising the radical youth of the late Sixties and Seventies and disillusioning the Thatcher generation.

A survey of Britain's social attitudes among 1,190 people for the Mori Social Research Institute shows that portraying the fictional pensioner Victor Meldrew as the country's biggest complainer is wide of the mark.

The study finds those aged 35-44 or 45-54, rather than the elderly or even the young, are the most negative about almost everything. They are the least likely to think education, health or transport will improve, the least satisfied by their jobs, the most resentful of long hours and the least impressed by material success.

They are deeply distrustful of authority, least likely to agree the "people in charge" know best, and have little faith in Tony Blair or Iain Duncan Smith. Perhaps worryingly for Mr Blair, given that the two age groups make up the majority of the workforce, they are the most likely to believe strikes are a sign of a healthy society.

Their discontent appears to stem from disappointment at how their lives have turned out and a belief that their elders and juniors are having a better time, the survey's authors say. They believe the unhappiness of the 45-54 group, or "Vietnam generation" of the late Sixties and early Seventies, might be explained by the high expectations of their radical youth being dashed by the realities of middle age. Disappointed in their careers, and harassed by commuting and children, they worry about the shrinking value of their pensions.

The Thatcher generation aged 35-44, having bought into the work ethos of the Eighties, is now dissatisfied. But the over-55s have generous pensions, and their children have left home, leaving them with high disposable incomes.