Updated Mar 23, 2024 - Economy

Why Americans over 60 are so happy

2024 World happiness ranking for those under 30 compared to those 60 or older
Data: World Happiness Report; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Older Americans are among the happiest people in the world, coming in 10th on Gallup's worldwide happiness rankings — the young, meanwhile, rank 62nd, just behind the Dominican Republic.

Why it matters: This all comes down to connecting with others; Americans age 60 and over are less lonely and feel more socially connected than their younger peers.

  • They're also doing great financially.

The big picture: Researchers have long pointed out that old age is generally a lot better than you may think. Psychological well-being plays out over a lifetime in a U-curve, according to a widely cited study from 2008.

  • It typically starts high in youth, plummets during the stresses of middle age and then picks back up after around age 55.
  • The U.S. is losing its U shape. Younger Americans aren't doing well right now. Rates of anxiety and depression and suicide have significantly increased.

Countries where quality of life is improving — particularly in Eastern and Central Europe — are the reverse of the U.S. The young are happier than the old.

Zoom in: The oldest Americans reported having more social support, and were less lonely than the young — even though they had fewer social connections.

  • How can that be? Ilana Ron-Levey, a managing director at Gallup, compared the situation to the feeling of social disconnection you might get at a party.
  • Older folks were more likely to answer "yes" when Gallup asked if they have a friend they can call on in a time of need.

Then there's the money. Financially, Boomers are crushing it.

  • Americans over 70 hold 30% of the country's wealth — a record high share — but make up just 11% of the population, Bloomberg reported recently.
  • Nearly 80% of adults age 65 and over own their homes. That means they were better protected from inflation — not dealing with rising rents.
  • Of course, retirees also get a form of universal basic income, via Social Security, which is adjusted for inflation.

What to watch: This was the first time Gallup looked at happiness by age, and it covered a particularly turbulent period — 2021 -2023, with many young Americans still emerging from the isolation of the pandemic when most weren't able to go to school in-person.

  • "Everyone's going to be watching closely to see how this evolves," says Ron-Levey.

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