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Young people are less happy than older generations, study finds

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Young people are less happy than older generations, study finds

Young people are increasingly less happy than older generations as they suffer “the equivalent of a mid-life crisis”, a global study has revealed, while America’s top doctor has warned that “young people are really in trouble “.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, said allowing children to use social media was like giving them drugs that have not been proven safe. He said the failure of governments to better regulate social media in recent years was “insane”.

Murthy spoke to the Guardian as new data revealed that young people in North America are now less happy than their elders, with the same “historic” change set to follow in Western Europe.

Declining well-being among those under 30 has knocked the United States out of the list of 20 happiest nations, the World Happiness Report 2024 found.

After 12 years in which people aged 15 to 24 were measured as happier than older generations in the United States, the trend appears to have reversed in 2017. The gap also narrowed in Western Europe and the same change could occur over the next year or two, it is thought.

Murthy described the report’s findings as “a wake-up call that young people are really struggling in the United States and now, increasingly around the world.” He said he was still waiting to see data proving social media platforms were safe for children and adolescents, and called for international action to improve real-world social connections among young people.

The World Happiness Report, an annual barometer of well-being in 140 countries coordinated by the Center for Well-being Research at the University of Oxford, Gallup and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, showed ” disconcerting declines (in youth happiness), particularly in North America and Western Europe,” said Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of the Wellbeing Research Center and editor-in-chief of the study.

“The thought that children in some parts of the world are already experiencing the equivalent of a midlife crisis demands immediate political action,” he said.

The decline in well-being scores in North America (in a group that includes Australia and New Zealand) “contradicts a well-established notion…that children start out happier before sliding down the U-shaped curve toward a mid-life crisis before (well-being) choices again,” De Neve added.

Overall life satisfaction

Britons under 30 come in 32nd in the rankings, behind countries like Moldova, Kosovo and even El Salvador, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

On the other hand, Britons over 60 are among the top 20 happiest older generations in the world. Earlier this month, a majority of British teenagers told pollsters they expected their lives to be worse than those of the previous generation.

The United States fell eight places in the overall happiness rankings, to 23rd, but when only those under 30 were surveyed, the world’s richest country ranked 62nd, behind Guatemala, the Saudi Arabia and Bulgaria. When considering only the opinions of people aged 60 and over, the United States ranks as the 10th happiest country.

“In the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, happiness has declined across all age groups, but especially among young people, to the point where young people are now, in 2021-2023, the least happy age group,” the report said. . In 2010, young people were happier than middle-aged people.

The report does not reveal the causes of these changes, but they come amid growing concern about the impact of growing social media use, income inequality, the housing crisis and fears over war and climate change on the happiness of children and young people.

Murthy said American teens spend an average of nearly five hours a day on social media, and a third stay up until midnight on weeknights on their devices. He called for legislation “now” to reduce the harm caused to young people by social media, including by limiting or eliminating features such as like buttons and infinite scrolling.

The World Happiness Report tracks subjective well-being using respondents’ own assessments of their lives and their positive and negative emotions. Once again, Finland, Denmark and Iceland rank among the top three happiest countries.

Jukka Siukosaari, Finland’s ambassador to London, said his country had succeeded in creating an “infrastructure of happiness”, including a “safe and secure environment”, affordable opportunities for people to express themselves culturally and relatively equal incomes. . “It all starts with a high level of trust between citizens and our institutions,” he said.

Costa Rica and Kuwait are new entrants to the top 20. Germany moved from 16th to 24th place. Afghanistan and Lebanon remain the two least happy nations. Countries that experienced increasing happiness included many African countries, Cambodia, Russia and China. Serbia recorded the highest increase in happiness.

Childhood well-being and emotional health may be the best indicators of adult satisfaction, according to the report. Previous research has concluded that adolescents and young adults who report greater life satisfaction earn significantly higher levels of income later in life, even when accounting for differences in education, intelligence , physical health and self-esteem.

Lord Layard, a Labor MP in the British parliament and co-editor of the report, said children’s welfare should be a major issue in the general election expected to take place this year. “We need commitments to improve mental health support teams and make them universal across the country. And life skills should be taught in every school,” he said.

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