Image: © Plotulit via Twenty20

Covid-19 has created a happiness generation gap

How happy do you feel, on a scale of one to ten?

The Office of National Statistics collects data on life satisfaction by asking respondents to rate theirs against a ten-point scale. In 2017, the average score for all age groups was about the same: between seven and a half and eight out of ten. The youngest Brits (age 16-29) and oldest Brits (age 70+) were both at the slightly higher end of that scale, which is perhaps not surprising considering how many big and stressful responsibilities - such as starting a family, buying a home, or holding leadership positions at work - tend to cluster around our middle age.

The data for 2021, however, reveals a completely different pattern. Average happiness has dropped for everyone, and is much more spread out between the age groups. It has also become directly correlated with age. Young people now rate their life satisfaction the lowest, at six out of ten. Pensioners rate theirs the highest, at an average of about seven and a half.

It’s not hard to guess why overall happiness has dipped: a deadly pandemic and an abrupt shut down of society can dampen even the sunniest outlook. But the age correlation is perhaps a little more surprising. Elderly people, after all, are substantially more susceptible to the nastiest effects of Covid, including death. Indeed, they’re more likely to die or fall ill in the next few years generally, meaning they may never get the chance to make up for the missed events of 2020/1.

One explanation for the data is that the older you are, the less you have to lose (and the more you have to gain) from lockdowns and other societal restrictions that have been put in place to combat the pandemic. On average, younger people have larger social circles and more active social lives than older people - so not going out to be able to see your friends stings more. They’re less likely to live with their partner and also less likely to have living spaces with the sort of amenities that make stay-at-home orders more pleasant, such as a garden, a decent kitchen, or a study.

They are also far more likely to have been financially impacted: Brits under 25 are twice as likely to have been laid off during the pandemic, and those that held onto their job were more likely to have seen their earnings fall.

Read our explainer on: economic inequality

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