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U.S. falls out of the top 20 in the 2024 World Happiness Report

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The United States is no longer among the world’s 20 happiest countries, according to a new report — with young people hit particularly hard and reporting lower levels of well-being than any other age group.

The United States fell from 15th in 2023 to 23rd in this year’s World Happiness Report, which was released Wednesday to mark the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness. The country’s results varied dramatically among different age groups, however, with young people under 30 ranking 62nd of 143 countries for happiness, while adults age 60 and above ranked 10th.

This is the first time the United States has slipped out of the top 20 since the report began in 2012. But a similar downward trend in youth well-being is also seen in Canada, which ranked 15th overall but 58th among young people this year.

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Center and an editor of the report, said in an interview Wednesday that the findings are concerning “because youth well-being and mental health is highly predictive of a whole host of subjective and objective indicators of quality of life as people age and go through the course of life.”

The report’s findings show “that in North America, and the U.S. in particular, youth now start lower than the adults in terms of well-being,” he said. “And that’s very disconcerting, because essentially it means that they’re at the level of their midlife crisis today and obviously begs the question of what’s next for them?”

While Finland once again topped this year’s UN-backed World Happiness Report, the United States slipped out of the top 20 for the first time. (Video: Reuters)

The report is based on data from Gallup World Poll surveys from 2021 to 2023 and analyzed by some of the world’s leading experts on well-being. The number of participants varies, but around 1,000 people usually respond from each country each year, rating their current life satisfaction on a scale from zero to 10. The happiness report is then based on a three-year average of those figures.

Nordic countries once again dominate the 2024 rankings, with Finland occupying the No. 1 spot for the seventh year in a row, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Sweden.

The report found that happiness has decreased for all age groups in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand since 2006-2010, with a particularly notable drop for young people — and young females recorded even lower scores than males. Youth happiness has also fallen in Western Europe, albeit less dramatically.

De Neve, one of the report’s editors, said the findings for youth in the United States in particular were “really striking.” He said questions remain about the reasons behind the trend.

Normally, well-being is reflected in a U-curve, he noted, whereby “youth start higher, then they drop in well-being virtually all the way down to a midlife crisis, which is typically the late 30s, early 40s,” before rising again in later life — unlike in the U.S. data.

There’s “no real smoking gun” that explains this drop in youth happiness, which began just over a decade ago, he said. Issues such as polarization, social media use and growing health and income disparities could play a role, he said.

Many young adults began college or a career amid a pandemic and face high housing prices, misinformation exacerbated by social media and a loneliness epidemic, as The Post has previously reported.

The researchers met Tuesday with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, who “spoke of K-12 high school students … talking about sort of a change in culture where there’s no longer a culture of speaking to each other,” De Neve added. “And that is really horrible because we all know from well-being science that nothing’s more important than your social capital — having quality connections and people to rely on and speak with on a very frequent basis.”

The study found that “social support” and “social interactions of all kinds” are important for happiness and reducing loneliness. But in many countries, including the United States and Canada, loneliness is “significantly higher for Millennials than for the Boomers” — a pattern also seen in Southeast Asia and Western Europe, but not in Central or Eastern Europe, the report said.

De Neve noted that the “general negative trend for youth well-being in the United States exacerbated during covid, and youth in the U.S. have not recovered from the drop.”

Yet the research found that the pandemic also had the effect of making people more likely to help others in need. “This increase in benevolence has been large for all generations,” the report said, but the increase was especially large “for the Millennials and Generation Z, who are even more likely than their predecessors to help others in need.”

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