The kids are not okay. New data shows Canadians under-30 ‘very unhappy’

Lifestyle

When it comes to happiness worldwide, Canadians appear to be a pretty content bunch, according to the 2024 World Happiness Report.

But dive deeper, and the data suggests the kids are not okay.

“Canada is on a bit of a long-term trend of declining overall life expectations,” said Chris Barrington-Leigh, an associate professor at McGill University’s department of equity, ethics and policy. “We have a very, very unhappy youth.”

The World Happiness Report takes in data from the Gallup World Poll of people from more than 140 countries, then ranks countries by their average life evaluations over the three previous years, in this case, 2021-23. Wednesday’s release corresponds with the International Day of Happiness.

People are asked to evaluate their life as a whole, with about 1,000 responses gathered for each country annually, with the happiness rankings based on a three-year average.

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Canada dropped two spots this year, falling to 15th on the ranking overall and while it’s still in the top 20, a look at how age groups feel about their happiness may shed some insight.

This year’s report is the first time rankings have been given based on age group and happiness among youth in North America has fallen sharply to the point where those under 30 are less happy than those 60 and older.

Canadians in that age group ranked their happiness to the point where the country was ranked number eight, but it falls drastically to the 58th spot when looking at how those under 30 answered.


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Barrington-Leigh suggested part of what is causing the decrease in happiness for youth may include feeling less support from family and friends when needed, a lack of trust in government, as well as more stress and anxiety.

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“One of the securities that are important for life satisfaction is actually just stability, feeling safe,” he said. “That has something to do with knowing what’s coming and that is very naturally harder for the youth because they don’t have a long past to look at.”


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The report notes that “life satisfaction evidence is matched by other evidence of a mid-life crisis.”

Felix Cheung, who holds Canada’s research chair in population well-being, would not use that term, though noted there could be parallels and said more youth are reflecting on achievable success.

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“One possible reason why we’re seeing this decline in happiness among youth is that I think we need to really think about whether or not our younger folks feel hard work can bring success,” he told Global News.

He added the cost of living and housing affordability may make some people feel like working hard won’t necessarily get them to achieving what they consider a “good life.”

The U.S. also took enough of a dip, dropping below the top 20 for the first time, with youth ranking it at 62 while those above 60 pushed it to 10.

Finland took the top spot in the report for the seventh year in a row, with Sweden following up in second.

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Cheung said this could be because people in those countries feel there’s a stronger sense of community support.


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“People talk about how there’s a strong safety net where people feel like even if they’re down there would be extra support provided,” he said.

Both Barrington-Leigh and Cheung echoed statements that the state of unhappiness among youth should be a clear signal that policy-makers of all levels need to work on improving the quality of life in Canada in order to improve happiness. Both professors offered feedback on the report in early stages, but were not authors.

“We now have this ability and, I would say, mandate, to start tailoring our policy to making lives better as opposed to pursuing diffused or implicit goals that have more to do with economic outcomes, which are important but are not actually the ultimate objective,” Barrington-Leigh said.

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Cheung adds an entire age group unhappy is a big signal.

“When the entire population isn’t happy, it’s now no longer an individual problem but a structural problem,” Cheung said.

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