Summary: Across dozens of measures of psychological well-being, young adults scored the lowest of any age group.

Source: Harvard

Twenty years ago, life satisfaction surveys of those 18 and older showed the highest readings among America’s youngest and oldest, in the midst of juggling work, family and other midlife cares.

Now, a Harvard-led study that examined dozens of measures of well-being shows that young adults have the lowest scores of any age group.

Tyler Vander Weel, director of the Human Development Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences and senior author of the study, said: JAMA PsychiatryThe results are not just a prolonged mental health crisis among young Americans, but a broader crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, affecting not only their brains, but also their physical health, social relationships and other measures, he said. Growing worse than other age groups.

Vanderwel, the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, said this should get the attention of policymakers.

Q&A: Tyler VanderWeele

Gazette: Obviously, they are related, but how does well-being differ from mental health?

VanderVele: Obviously, mental health is important. It is important to solve the issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, suicide for young people and adults. Having said that, I think we have neglected questions of goodness or prosperity, which I generally understand as living in a state where all aspects of life are good.

That takes into account mental health, physical health, and—more importantly—happiness, a sense of meaning and purpose, trying to be a good person, one’s social relationships, and financial and material circumstances. .

Gazette: The report compared the results of a survey conducted earlier this year with a similar survey conducted in 2000. What does this study reveal about the situation we had 22 years ago?

Vandervel: Many studies have shown that younger and older people are doing better than those in between if you look at happiness and life satisfaction alone. The assumption was that middle-aged people with young children, perhaps older parents, were struggling more.

Perhaps they were at a stage where they were trying to move forward in their careers, perhaps even having a mid-life crisis. For those who were young, statistics from the past decade suggest that they are happier, perhaps more fortunate, less responsibilities, more opportunities for socializing.

What is surprising about previous surveys is that perhaps older people are doing better than middle-aged people. Although health problems often arise with age, people are still happier. Perhaps they felt that life’s struggles had been resolved, or they had more time to socialize.

As one ages, there is some evidence of greater emotional control, greater appreciation for what has happened. These are apparent averages that cover a lot of variability, but this curve has been observed consistently across countries.

Gazette: What did you find in your recent survey?

Vanderwel: We started seeing this before the outbreak in January 2020. But January 2022 was the time when it became crystal clear for the first time: All aspects of well-being – happiness, health, meaning, character, relationships, financial stability – are each increasing with age. People aged 18 to 25 felt worse on all these dimensions. It was amazing, disturbing.

Gazette: One thing that stood out to me is that it is true for physical health as well. You would think this would be a setting for young people. How do we explain that?

VanderVele: It’s powerful. Young people perceive themselves to be physically unhealthy. One must consider the scenario of January 2022: we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Omicron made social and communal relations—again—so difficult that there was hope that things would soon open up.

Some of these epidemics may be a sense of physical insecurity that affects young people more than others. Some may feel that they are not engaging in the health behaviors that young people think they should be.

Maybe the drug and alcohol use is over. It could be a difference between experience and expectations.

As a 24-year-old, I think I should feel physical, and I’m not there. So, all of these factors may come into play, but surprisingly—in some ways shocking—this group had very low self-reported physical health.

Newspaper: Loneliness was another area mentioned in the study.

Vanderveele: Social cohesion is reported to be low in this group. Considering the timing, maybe it’s not that surprising. There’s been evidence in the past that young adults are increasingly lonely, and I think that’s really been accentuated by the epidemic.

What we saw during the pandemic was that, on average, the sense of social connectedness in the United States decreased slightly and loneliness increased slightly, although not as much as one might think. Many people have invested more in their families and close friends, connecting with relatives via Zoom or other media. But the decline was steepest among young people.

Older people have established relationships and communities that they can draw on, but young people at that stage of life are trying to build these relationships and trying to join these communities, and opportunities to do so have been very limited.

This shows a troubled young man.
Many studies have shown that younger and older people—when looking at happiness and life satisfaction—do better than those in the middle. The image is in the public domain.

Newspaper: Do we have any understanding of the causes? Social media has been called a villain. The economy?

VanderVele: The data we’re working with now is completely descriptive. He does not allow us to find reason. But by piecing together the evidence from other studies, we can begin to understand what might happen.

Some are financial and economic. The employment opportunities for young people are not at the same level compared to the predictable and expected growth of 40 to 50 years ago. Education loans are putting a lot of pressure on the youth. Housing costs in cities are rising, and research shows that most of Gen Z want to own a home, but think it’s out of reach.

I think social media has contributed to the security collapse. Previous studies have shown that, on average, the effect on well-being and mental health is negative, especially in high users. And heavy use is more common among young adults than others.

watch out

This shows a person in three different poses and x-rays.

Additionally, study after study—ours and others—indicate that family life and participation in religious communities contribute to these areas of development. And the participation of both has decreased significantly.

I think political polarization played a role in this. Many people ask, “How can I live in a country where half the people are horrible?” They feel that. In addition, the last five years have been very difficult times: the epidemic, Russia and Ukraine, the threat of climate change.

We all face this, but seniors have had more relative stability than those in their 20s. The world seems perhaps a more dangerous place.

Gazeta: Is there any hint about the way forward?

VanderVele: Again, not from the survey responses, but from other studies that we and others have done. It is clear that these domains of security are interrelated. If you improve on social interactions, you are also more likely to improve your happiness and health and find meaning.

If you feel meaningful, find new purpose, you may be happier and healthier. So we need to work on each of these aspects: we need to develop relationships and communities; We need to address the financial issues facing young people; We need to help them find meaning systems. We need to address mental health issues, issues of anxiety and depression, but doing so alone will not be enough. The problem is very broad.

We also need to think about economic and health policy. How much are we thinking for the common good, not only in the political line but also in the line of generation? What will not only benefit us but shape the next generation in the next three to five years? We found larger differences across age groups than within groups defined by gender or race.

How can we structure society so that young people have opportunities, their security is improved? How do we get there? I don’t have all the answers, but it’s important that we take this seriously.

So psychological research news

Author: Alvin Powell
Source: Harvard
Contact: Alvin Powell – Harvard
Image: The image is in the public domain.

Preliminary study: Open Access.
National data on age levels in safety among American adults” by Ying Chen et al. JAMA Psychiatry


National data on age levels in safety among American adults

There is growing concern about the safety of youth in the US, but data is focused on mental health.

Taking a holistic approach to well-being, we examine data from a nationally representative sample of US adults on age-group health outcomes in multiple domains.

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