Written by : Paula Felps 

Older Americans Are Getting Happier, but Young People’s Well-being is Declining

Around the world, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 report being happier than older adults — except in the U.S.

In fact, the dramatic decline in well-being among young people is the likely cause of the U.S. falling off the list of the World Happiness Report’s 20 Happiest Countries for the first time since the report began in 2012.

For the first time this year, the report — which is published each year by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) — broke down rankings by age in addition to providing overall rankings. And it found that viewing results by age groups provided very different outcomes than the overall rankings.

For example, while Finland was once again named the World’s Happiest Country, Lithuania is the happiest country for children and young people under 30. And for adults over the age of 60, Denmark takes the No. 1 spot.

The kids are not alright

In the U.S., the news was great for older adults: Baby Boomers (born before 1965) are happier than those born since 1980. In fact, when ranked by age only, the Boomers pushed the U.S. to a No. 10 spot on the world charts.

But while Boomers report their satisfaction increases with each year of age, subsequent generations report just the opposite and say life satisfaction falls each year. The happiness gap is most evident when looking at the under-30 age group in the U.S., which ranks 62 nd for happiness — just six spots above Russian youth.

Dr. Lara Aknin, a distinguished professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University and co-editor of the World Happiness Report, pointed out that, around the world, happiness is typically highest among the young, but begins to drop after the age of 30.

“In North America, particularly in Canada and the United States, the young have started rating their life satisfaction quite a bit lower,” she said. “In fact, it is one of the only regions in the world where the young are less happy than the old.”

The reasons behind that change, she said, are varied and complex:
“Those under 30 today are reporting less support from their friends and family than did earlier cohorts,” she said. “They’re also reporting less freedom to make life choices, more stress and anxiety — but not more anger — less confidence in the government, and greater perceptions of corruption.”

She said dissatisfaction with their living situations also factor in, because incomes are stagnating relative to the cost of living, which fuels more frustration, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. The country is also experiencing extreme political tensions and growing levels of income inequality that could be weighing heavily on young people, Aknin said.

“So it seems to be this cocktail of predictors that are associated with lower levels of well-being among those under 30 and different from those that were reported by those [of the same age] about a decade ago.”

Bringing happiness home

While the data parsed out by this year’s report shows an alarming decline in the well- being of North America’s young people, Aknin said she finds hope in the science: “One of the main thrusts and the rationales for the World Happiness Report is to present some of this leading evidence on the science of happiness to the public and also to policymakers and individuals who are concerned about the well-being of their constituents and their community members and their neighbors,” she explained.

“And so the hope is that by bringing some hard science to this question, to shine a spotlight on those who perhaps are not thriving or doing as well as we would’ve hoped, can direct attention to those areas.”

About the World Happiness Report

The World Happiness Report is a partnership of Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the WHR’s Editorial Board.

The report is produced under the editorial control of the WHR Editorial Board, formed of John F. Helliwell, Lord Richard Layard, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Lara B. Aknin, and Shun Wang.

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