US Youth and Happiness: The Role of Sex, Money, Race, Faith, Family and Tech

August 22, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Youth & Gen X

The findings of an in-depth, seven-month study into happiness and young people – how happy they are, what makes them happy and what they’re doing to ensure future happiness – are being released this week by Viacom’s MTV Network and The Associated Press.

Overall, the study shows that young people (13-24) today are generally happy, optimistic about the future and have goals in place to achieve a happier tomorrow.


However, happiness varies greatly along racial lines, with faith and family playing an important role in the pursuit of happiness and younger sexually active respondents reporting much lower levels of happiness.

The initial release of data offers an overview of the study’s highlights, and subsequent releases will cover specific issues, including racial dynamics, financial views, spirituality and stress/fears.

Among the initial findings released:

General Happiness


  • The study found that overall, most American young people (aged 13-24) report being happy with their lives and are optimistic about the future:
    • 65% of respondents say they are happy with the way things are going in their lives in general.
    • 62% think they will be happier in the future than they are now.
    • Only one out of five say they are unhappy.
  • Young people who are non-Hispanic whites are happier than blacks and Hispanics by a wide margin: 72% of whites say they are happy with life in general, compared with just 56% of blacks and 51% of Hispanics.

Parents, Family and Relationships

  • Parents are seen as an overwhelmingly positive influence in the lives of most young people: Nearly half of respondents mention at least one of their parents as a hero.


  • When asked “What one thing in life makes you most happy?” 46% of respondents say spending time with friends, family and loved ones.
  • 30% of blacks and Hispanics identified family as the one thing in life that brings them the most happiness, compared with 15% of whites.

Religion and Spirituality

  • Religion and spirituality are an integral part of happiness for most American young people: 44% say that religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives, with more than one in ten reporting the latter.


  • Those for whom religion and spirituality play a bigger role in life tend to be happier: 80% of those who say spirituality is the most important thing in life say they are happy with life in general, compared with 60% of those who say that spirituality is not an important part of life at all.

Fortune and Fame

  • Money and its relationship to the happiness of young people is a complicated issue:
    • Almost no respondents mentioned anything financial or material as a source of happiness when asked an unaided question about what makes them happy.
    • But many young people report financial woes as a source of unhappiness.
  • Looking to the future, 70% say they want to be rich – and nearly half think it’s at least somewhat likely they will be someday.
  • Just 29% want to be famous.
  • Just 17% think they will be famous.


  • Cell phones, the Internet and other technologies are integrally woven into the lives of today’s young people, and nearly two-thirds say they make people happier.
  • Half of those young people polled say the internet alone helps them feel happier.
  • Contrary to popular views of technology as a source of stress, many young people would be more stressed out without technology: Nearly half say they never turn off their cell phones – even when they’re trying to chill out.

About the study (pdf): The qualitative portion of the study was conducted by MTV and the DC-based research and consulting firm Social Technologies; it began in January of this year and included extensive field research with small discussion groups in diverse American cities around the country. The quantitative part of the study was conducted by Knowledge Networks, Inc. on behalf of MTV and the AP. 1,280 young people aged 13 to 24 years old were interviewed in late April of this year.

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