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Why are young people becoming unhappier?

According to the World Happiness Report, young people in Britain, the US and some European countries are less happy today than they were a few years ago. Although some blame the use of social media and smartphones, there are deeper causes at play, they argue Ben O’Loughlin And James Sloam.


The new World Happiness Report, based on surveys in 140 countries, shows that young people around the world are becoming happier, but steadily fewer fortunately in North America and Europe.

Great Britain is in 32nd placeNL of the 140 countries for happiness among people in their thirties, only twentyeamong the over-60s. The report’s authors write: “Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Spain are countries where older people are now significantly happier than young people, while Portugal and Greece show the opposite pattern.” Comparing the previous survey from 2006-2010 to that of 2021-2023, Britain ranks 92ndNL on evidence that happiness among young people is improving. The specific Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey of 15-year-olds found that their happiness in England fell dramatically between 2017-2018 and 2022, while it rose between 2013 and 2017-2018. Something tipped off at that moment.

The causes of childhood accidents

The guard recently interviewed U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who blamed social media for being an unsafe platform that is largely unregulated. This caused psychological problems among young people. Our research among young people from disadvantaged and traditionally marginalized groups in London over the past five years shows a more complicated picture, and there is no one easy target for blame. We highlight three key themes contributing to this downward trend in young people’s happiness: the aftereffects of the 2007-2008 global financial crises, combined with the Covid pandemic; the preferential treatment of the elderly by governments; a feeling of entrapment and powerlessness due to a perceived lack of opportunity. These are all the result of policy choices that, given political will, can be reversed.

Firstly, since the global financial crises of 2007-2008, what some are now calling a ‘polycrisis’ in global politics has seen young people growing up with austerity, cuts to public services, amplified by Covid and disruption to education. They know about this. Despite that wider devastating context, young people from less affluent backgrounds in our London study found it difficult to talk about political issues outside their local environment. When asked about climate change, they said terms like “green economy” were unexplained and meaningless. For most, climate meant their local park. One term that resonated was “circular economy,” but they didn’t know how to grow food for their families or access the space to grow it. They could not discuss economic life in terms of a national economy, let alone global economic patterns. The focus of attention was on what they immediately experienced in everyday life. This took an emotional toll because they didn’t know how to act effectively in that space. They expressed the feeling that they were missing something that older generations possessed and could not see how this would change. Older people were able to open bank accounts, pay taxes and save for a home, while young Londoners said they lacked these basic options.

Secondly, government policy in England and Great Britain has become mainly aimed at the older generations. In the wake of the 2010-2011 financial crisis, the coalition government directly cut benefits for young people, for example by abolishing the Education Maintenance Allowance, which supported low-income young people to complete education after the age of 16, while with low income were improved or maintained. older age groups, regardless of their income, in particular the introduction of a triple block on state pensions. Over the next decade, local authority spending on youth care in England fell by more than 70 percent in real terms, from £1.2 billion to around £400 million. This led to the closure of more than half of the country’s youth centers – key support structures that enable the transition to adulthood for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our research in London found that housing, mental health and crime are the top issues facing young Londoners. The Covid-19 pandemic caused a dramatic downward spiral for young people from 2020 onwards: young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were stuck in cramped housing, often without functioning Wi-Fi to access education, and without adequate services to support their deteriorating mental health. High inflation and the cost of living crisis since 2022 have further increased the pressure on precarious lives. In this context, it is not surprising that young people’s happiness has suffered.

Third, young people tell us that they have experienced “cycles” of entrapment due to a lack of opportunity in that context. Disruptive or even poor education lowers expectations of a good job, increases the incentive to use crime to build an income, makes incarceration more likely, and thus a criminal record that each paid job unlikely. These cycles cause feelings of powerlessness and frustration. Many reported that they do not know how to escape or break these cycles because they cannot get useful guidance from schools that are completely focused on exam results or from parents who may be in prison or unemployed and thus struggling in their own way. be powerless. These are cycles of uncertainty in which many young people feel uncertainty increasing, and that worsening extends the feeling of powerlessness over months or even years.

Policy proposals to reverse the unhappiness trend

The obvious question for public policy is: how can we turn these vicious circles into positive ones? It is clear that there is structural equality that needs to be addressed at subsidy level. For example, the Labor Party’s recent commitment to creating ‘youth hubs’ requires serious financial investment – ​​investments that will cost money in the very short term, but could yield huge returns of happy and productive citizens in the medium to long term. -term.

These are political choices – UK governments have been keen to commit to physical infrastructure projects where outcomes are less certain. HS2 is estimated to cost £2 billion a year, five times the local authority’s youth care budget. In addition to government investments, there are emerging models for youth empowerment that highlight pathways to more inclusive and effective public policies. For example, the Mayor of London’s Peer Outreach Team has developed an innovative model in which young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are given support and space to develop their own personal and democratic skills, reach their peers and engage with policy. makers to shape government policy. Both types of pathways can contribute to restoring the happiness of our young people and reversing the current alarming trend.


All articles on this blog reflect the views of the author(s) and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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