The United States Dropped In Global Happiness Rankings, With Young People Leading the Charge

By: Julia Mehalko | Published: Mar 31, 2024

The Gallup World Poll has released their 2024 results that gauge how happy people are around the world. This poll is conducted by country, and Gallup then ranks the happiest — and least happy — countries based on its citizens’ responses.

The United States has recently dropped in the poll’s happiness ranking. However, more interestingly, it appears there is a huge difference in how joyful elder people in the U.S. feel when compared to the younger generations. 

How the Poll Works

Researchers at Gallup conducted this poll a bit differently than you may expect. They reached out to different people in all countries to gauge how happy one is.

Four young women hold drinks and laugh with each other outside.

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They did so by telling them to imagine a ladder. Then, they said to think about one’s current life. How happy are they living? The top rung represents an amazing life at 10. Meanwhile, the bottom rung represents a terrible life at 0.


The Ladder Survey

Using this ladder imagery, researchers then asked participants to pick a number that they feel is where their current life is at. By using these responses, analysts were able to determine how happy people in various societies are around the world.

A group of young people on the beach hanging out with each other during the sunset.

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This type of survey is how the Gallup World Poll was created. About 1,000 people are questioned in each country.

The Happiest Country in the World

Finland earned the number one spot for being the happiest country in the world. Many other Scandinavian countries were also listed incredibly high on the list. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark all got spots in the top 10.

Many people walking around a street and a tram in Finland in the daytime.

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There are likely many reasons for these high rankings. Scandinavian countries always rank very high on this poll. Researchers say this is because these countries have social support and healthy lifestyles.

The United States’ Ranking

Unfortunately for Americans, the U.S. doesn’t rank very high. In fact, it even dropped from the last survey conducted. Now, the U.S. is no longer in the top 20 happiest countries in the world.

A view of United States lights seen from orbit.

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Instead, the U.S. has only earned a spot in the 23rd place. The last time this survey was done, the U.S. was ranked 15th.

Older Americans

However, the Gallup poll also looked at how different generations are faring throughout the U.S. Various people of different age ranges were surveyed to see if there were any differences. There were.

An elderly lady smiling.

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According to the survey’s data, Americans aged 60 or older reported they had high levels of well-being. They were happy. They liked their lives and looked at the ladder imagery positively. As a result, they ranked themselves high.


Younger Americans Aren’t Thrilled

The same can’t be said about the younger generations in the U.S. Younger Americans have declined when it comes to overall joy. They simply aren’t happy with their lives.

An American flag hanging off a building in New York City.

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“The report finds there’s a dramatic decrease in the self-reported well-being of people aged 30 and below,” editor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, the director of the Wellbeing Research Centre at Oxford University, explained.


Why Young Americans Aren’t Happy

There are likely various reasons why younger Americans aren’t thrilled with the current state of their lives — or the world. Researchers have stated that the youth in the U.S. may feel more anxiety or displeasure over things like climate change or politics.

The Statue of Liberty seen in the daytime underneath a cloudy sky.

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These younger generations realize they will have to keep dealing with these issues for the rest of their lives. They may see things like climate change get much worse in their lifetimes. Older generations, meanwhile, don’t necessarily worry about having to deal with these situations.


Threatened U.S. Citizens

Normally, younger generations are happier than, say, middle-aged generations. This is because they are more positive about their futures, whereas middle-aged Americans may be dealing with stresses such as child care and mortgages.

People crossing the street in the evening in New York City.

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But now, this analysis can no longer be said. “People are hearing that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and the young especially are feeling more threatened by it,” John Helliwell, a co-author of this study, stated.


Why Older Americans Are Happy

Just as there are countless reasons for a younger American’s dissatisfaction, there are also various reasons for an older American’s complete happiness.

An elderly man kissing the cheek of an elderly woman in front of the ocean.

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Researchers attached to this study have explained that, on average, it’s natural to see people become happier as they get older. This is because they’re likely in a more secure stage of their life, especially when it comes to finances and careers.


The Youth Aren’t Happy Elsewhere, Either

The United States isn’t alone in having a dissatisfied younger generation. Many younger people in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Western Europe also saw a drop in happiness.

People walking down a sidewalk in Toronto, Canada in the daytime.

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Throughout North America, younger generations have dropped in overall satisfaction with their lives when compared to older adults, such as their middle-aged counterparts.


The Generational Divide

While many younger citizens in the U.S. are clearly not happy, many older ones are. In fact, the U.S. ranks in the top 10 for happiness for people aged 60 or older. This drastic divide between generations is notable.

A close-up of an American flag.

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“We knew that a relationship existed between age and happiness, but the biggest surprise is that it is more nuanced than we previously thought, and it is changing,” Ilana Ron-Levey, the managing director at Gallup, said