Happiness is ... having your friends and families prosper, according to research conducted at Cambridge University.

People's happiness is bound up with that of their "significant others", a study into men's and women's differing attitudes to well-being has found.

Sociologists found that, although men and women gave different answers when asked about what affected their quality of life, many in fact associated personal happiness with the welfare of families and loved ones when their responses were analysed at a deeper level.

The study, which compiled the views of more than 10,000 people, found that more women (57 per cent) were concerned with health than men (50 per cent), while more men (38 per cent) associated finance with well-being than women (33 per cent). The difference was particularly strong in the case of family, which was singled out by 49 per cent of women, but only 38 per cent of men.

Closer analysis revealed that many respondents were linking their own happiness with that of the people closest to them but phrasing that link in gender-specific terms.

Men, for instance, often connected financial security with well-being because they saw themselves as "bread-winners".

Similarly, women were more likely to mention the family itself, because they still perceive themselves as the principal carers of children or elderly relatives.

Professor Jacqueline Scott, who led the study, said: "Most policy-making on happiness has focused on improving conditions for individuals.

"Our research suggests that more should be done to support the actions of both men and women in caring for others, because that will have benefits for everybody's quality of life."

The study appears in a new book, Gender Inequalities in the 21st Century.