Which is the happiest generation? Gen Z and Millennials are less happy than their parents, new research shows

The 2024 World Happiness Report has found that young people are becoming less happy than older generations

A young girl looking out of a window on a rainy day
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Young people are becoming less happy than older generations, new research shows, as the UK falls in happiness rankings. And it's a trend that could affect future generations too.

Parents everywhere want to know how to raise happy kids, but it can be made a whole lot more difficult by the things that are going on in the world around us. In alarming news, recent research has revealed that teenagers in the UK feel 'hopeless' about their futures and believe their lives will be worse than their parents', while the latest data from The World Happiness Report has shown that happiness among adolescents and young adults is in decline, and they are now more miserable than older generations.

The report ranks countries and age groups by their levels of happiness, and the 2024 findings saw the UK drop one place to number 20, below Czechia at 18, and Lithuania at 19 - both of which have seen a recent increase in happiness scores. Finland was the top-ranked happiest country for the seventh year in a row, followed by Denmark at number two and Iceland at number three. The US has dropped out of the top 20 for the first time since the report was first published in 2012.

But as well as sharing which countries are happiest, the 2024 World Happiness Report also uncovered some interesting stats about happiness in relation to age. British people under 30 ranked 32nd in the happiness rankings, behind nations such as Moldova, Kosovo and El Salvador. In contrast, over 60s in the UK were 20th in the rankings.

And this new disparity between the young and older generations is not just the case in the UK. The report found "For the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, happiness has decreased in all age groups, but especially for the young, so much so that the young are now, in 2021-23, the least happy age group."

Elsewhere, the report commented, "Those born before 1965 (Boomers and their predecessors) have life evaluations about one-quarter of a point higher than those born after 1980 (Millennials and Gen Z). Within each generation, life evaluations rise with age for those in the older generations and fall with age for the younger ones."

Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a University of Oxford economics professor and one of the report's editors, said of the findings: "Youth, especially in North America, are experiencing a mid-life crisis today."

He said a range of factors are likely to be lowering young peoples' happiness, including polarisation over social issues, the negative aspects of social media, and economic inequality that makes it harder for young people to afford their own homes than in the past.

But the countries with the biggest improvements in wellbeing often saw young people report significantly better quality of life than older people, often on a par or better than in western Europe. Many of these are former communist countries in central and eastern Europe.

Dr De Neve said: "Slovenia, Czechia and Lithuania are moving into the top 20 and that's wholly driven by their youth."

Childhood wellbeing may be the best predictor for adult life satisfaction, the report found. Earlier research has suggested that adolescents and young adults who report higher life satisfaction earn significantly higher levels of income later in life - even when differences in education, intelligence, physical health and self-esteem are taken into account.

Lord Layard, a Labour peer and co-editor of the report, said child wellbeing should be a big issue at the next general election, expected to be held this year. He said: "We need pledges to upgrade mental health support teams and to make them universal across the country. And life skills should be taught in every school."

In other news, we've asked the experts how to raise confident kids. If you're worried about your stressed teen, here are four ways you can guide them through and we've also rounded up 25 teen conversation starters to help you find out what's on their mind.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.