Research released today by Girlguiding highlights the issues that have shaped girls and young women’s lives over the last ten years, revealing a decline in happiness, a rise in the number seeking help with their mental health and an increase in those speaking out on issues that matter to them.

During the last decade, Girlguiding’s annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey has captured a snapshot of what it is like to be a girl and young woman in the modern world, revealing the issues that affect their lives such as body confidence, online pressures and gender stereotypes, and identifying how their lives have changed.

Girls are unhappier now than they were ten years ago, and while exams are still the main cause of stress among girls and young women aged 11-21, the pressure from social media, which wasn’t a factor seven years ago, now features heavily. And when girls are feeling unhappy, this impacts on different areas of their lives, from how confident they feel to having fun with their friends:


  • 25% of girls and young women aged 7-21 are very happy, down from 41% in 2009
  • 27% of young women aged 17-21 are not happy, an increase from 11% in 2009
  • 69% of girls and young women aged 11-21 say exams and tests are the main cause of stress among girls their age
  • 59% of girls and young women aged 11-21 say pressure from social media is one of the main causes of stress among girls their age
  • 45% of girls and young women aged 7-21 say feeling unhappy affects how confident they feel
  • Half (50%) of girls and young women aged 11-21 say feeling unhappy affects their health
  • One in three (31%) girls aged 7-10 say feeling unhappy affects them having fun with their friends

Girls in 2018 are more likely to know other girls who have experienced a mental health issue, but they’re also talking more about their mental health than in previous years. 71% of 11-21- year old girls and young women say they know a girl who has had a mental health problem, a rise from 62% in 2015, and 64% of those aged 11-21 know other girls who have experienced an anxiety disorder, an increase from 50% in 2014. 71% of the same age group are aware of other girls who have had depression, a slight drop from 73% in 2014. Girls today are talking more about mental health and feel more able to do so. In 2015, 57% of girls and young women aged 11-21 said mental health issues were awkward to talk about, but this has fallen to 46% in this year’s research. Mental health is also being talked about more in schools, with 50% of girls saying the subject has been discussed in lessons, a rise from 44% in 2015.

Positively, more girls and young women aged 11-21 have spoken up to make their views known about an issue they care about, with 36% saying they’ve done this compared with 28% in 2011. And period poverty is an issue girls are vocal about in the Girls’ Attitudes Survey, with 69% of those aged 11-21 saying the government should make menstrual products available for free to young people who can’t afford them. But of the girls aged 11-21 who have spoken out, only 60% feel their voice has been heard and made a difference.

Izzy, 17, a member of Girlguiding’s Advocate panel, said: “The research from the last ten years doesn’t paint a great picture for girls and young women, but it’s reassuring to see some positive signs. Girls feeling more able to talk more openly about mental health makes me optimistic for the future, as does the increase in the number of girls who are speaking out on all issues. But the fact only 60% of girls who spoke out felt their voice was heard and made a difference shows more needs to be done to ensure girls and young women are listened to by decision makers and the issues they raise are taken seriously, so they have the confidence to speak out and know their views and opinions matter.With women’s rights coming to the forefront of conversation more and more in society, I hope this can create a positive environment where young women feel they can contribute and their opinion is valued. I hope this research is a wake-up call to all those who play a role in girls’ lives, whether decision makers in government, organisations, parents or schools, to step up, listen to girls and take action, so this decline in happiness is reversed.”

There are positive signs in the younger age group, with more girls aged 7-10 enjoying science, technology and maths than they did in 2009 (41% compared with 26%) and over half (53%) want to be a leader in their chosen job, an increase from 42% in 2016. And they expect more gender equality in the home compared with 2009, with more girls aged 7-10 saying jobs should be shared equally between the genders.

  • Housework, 45%, a change from 25%
  • Car maintenance, 43%, an increase from 25%
  • Looking after the children, 65%, rising from 57%

They’ve also become more aware of gender inequality, with the figures below highlighting how greater numbers of girls aged 7-10 say certain behaviours negatively impact on the treatment of girls and women.


  • 76% say jokes about girls being stupid or weak, a rise from 53% in 2015
  • 67% say naked pictures of women in the media, up from 50% in 2015
  • 54% say more attention given to women’s clothes rather than what they do, an increase from 41% in 2015

Girlguiding’s Chief Guide Amanda Medler said: “The message could not be clearer from girls and young women about the seriousness of the issues they’re facing daily and the negative impact on their lives. It’s not good enough that today girls are unhappier and more of them are experiencing problems with their mental health than in previous years. Over the last ten years the insight from the Girls’ Attitudes Survey has helped us support girls and young women and empower them to bring about change, from developing sessions to provide them with the tools to build their mental wellbeing and resilience, to enabling them to make their voices heard on the issues that matter to them. Girls need to know when they speak out they will be heard. So now is the time for action, to listen to girls and respond, and for all organisations, government, schools and parents to work together to improve the lives of all girls and young women.”

Girlguiding listened to the views of more than 50,000 girls and young women to develop hundreds of new badges and activities which were revealed in July and cover topics including mental wellbeing, STEM, adventure and skills for the future such as leadership, money management and DIY. This unique and extensive choice of activities reflects the diversity of girls and modern life in the 21st century and gives them the opportunity to discover and explore a wide variety of new interests while building skills and confidence.