The majority of shale gas studies so far have focused on environmental impacts with few considering societal aspects. This paper presents a first and most comprehensive assessment of the social impacts of shale gas production and utilisation for electricity generation, focusing on the UK context. The assessment has been carried out based on 14 indicators, addressing the following social sustainability issues: employment, health and safety, nuisance, public perceptions, local communities, infrastructure and resources. Shale gas is compared to a range of other electricity options, including other fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables. Where appropriate and possible, the social impacts are evaluated on a life cycle basis. The results suggest that extraction and utilisation of shale gas would lead to a range of benefits, including employment opportunities and financial gains by local communities. However, these are limited and countered by a number of social barriers that need to be overcome, including low public support, noise, traffic, strain on infrastructure (e.g. wastewater treatment facilities), land use conflict and availability of regulatory resources. Furthermore, shale gas does not present a notable opportunity for increasing energy security, unless its production increases significantly above current predictions. These findings can be used by policy makers, operators and other shale gas stakeholders with an interest in the social impacts of shale gas development. The results can also be useful for other countries planning to exploit their shale gas reserves.