Young adults in their late teens and early 20s report the highest levels of happiness among all Americans, while their counterparts in their 50s and 80s are the least content, according an analysis of more than 600,000 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index interviews from 2008 and 2009.
The research, which examined study participants’ answers to a series of questions about how often they feel happy, experience enjoyment, smile and laugh, found that while highest in early adulthood, happiness drops among Americans in their 30s and 40s, and – in particular – among those in their 50s. It then rises among Americans in their 60s, drops among those in their late 70s and 80s, and then rises again among those older than 90.
There do not appear to be any significant differences among men and women, though women on average have slightly higher happiness scores than men, Gallup said.
Most Americans Happy
Though the survey found that on an absolute basis, a majority of all Americans of all ages are happy, happiness reaches its very lowest point – 69% – among Americans ages 86-90, meaning that even among this relatively less positive group, more than two-thirds said they experience happiness and enjoyment, and smiled or laughed a lot the day before they were interviewed.
Additional findings about Americans’ happiness:
- The happiest adult Americans are those ages 18-20, who collectively have a score of 79%.
- Levels begin to fall among those? in their 30s and 40s? and – in particular – among American Baby Boomers who are now in their 50s.
- Happiness is higher among the very oldest Baby Boomers and Silent Generation members in their 60s, but drops again among those ages 76-90.
- The very oldest Americans, ages 91+ (of whom there are 9,654 in this sample), have a modestly more positive level of happiness in these latter years of their lives compared with ‘youngsters’ only in their 80s. However, Gallup noted that this apparent? “surge” in happiness may apply only to those in this advanced age group who enjoy enough independence to answer telephone calls and respond to surveys.
Women Slightly More Happy than Men
Averaging across all age groups, there is only a very slight difference between women’s and men’s scores, with women, at 73.4, about one percentage point higher on average than men, at 72.5%. Given the large sample sizes involved in this analysis (more than 300,000 men and more than 300,000 women), this gender difference is statistically significant, but substantively does not suggest a major gender effect, Gallup said.
The pattern of gender differences varies across age groups. The female skew in happiness is statistically significant (although still quite small) among Americans 36-65, and among those over 80. The gender gap in happiness is largest among the oldest Americans, ages 86+, Gallup said.
Though this analysis was conducted during 2008 and 2009, Gallup said that given the cross-sectional nature of these data, it is not possible to determine whether these same happiness-by-age patterns will persist in the years ahead. It is possible, for example, that specific life circumstances of the core Baby Boomer group now in their 50s will stay with them throughout their lives, and that in the years ahead, they will not enjoy the increased happiness levels now apparent among those who are in their 60s.
About the survey: The survey was conducted via land-line and cellphone interviews with 608,221 national adults (306,167 women and 302,054 men), ages 18+, fielded from Jan. 2, 2008-Sept. 21, 2009. The analysis? is based on a definition of happiness developed from responses to two questions about mood and one about smiling or laughing, all included in Gallup-Healthways Daily tracking. The questions are: (1) Did you experience happiness during a lot of the day yesterday? (2) Did you experience enjoyment during a lot of the day yesterday? and (3) Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Survey respondents receive a positive happiness score if they respond affirmatively to all three questions. All other patterns of responses yield a score of zero.