What Does Young People’s Current Wellbeing Say About Their Future? (Gallup)
By Telli Davoodi and Alden Lai
As part of our ongoing partnership, researchers from Gallup and the Wellbeing for Planet Earth (WPE) Foundation are investigating aspects of people’s wellbeing that have not been globally tracked before, including their connections to others, nature, religion and spirituality, as well as their feelings of balance, harmony, peace, competency and contentment in life.
One aspect that we are seeking to better understand through this lens is what makes a good life for the world’s young people. Our findings from global surveys in 2021 revealed that majorities of young people aged 15 to 24 experience good relationships in their lives, feel they are able to deal with life’s challenges and believe the things they do are meaningful.
In 2022, we examined young people’s ratings of their future lives. Specifically, we looked at the hopethat young people have for their future and investigated whether this hope is related to aspects of their current wellbeing.
Our latest study shows that the expectations and experiences of the world’s young people are interrelated. However, those expectations and experiences are not uniform, particularly when examined through the lens of country-level income, which previous research shows is highly related to subjective measures of wellbeing.
Young people’s outlooks for the future and their daily experiences vary across different country-level income groups.
In 2022, we analyzed 15- to 24-year-olds’ responses to a Gallup World Poll question measuring the quality of life that people foresee for themselves in the near future. The question asks people to imagine their lives five years from now as a ladder with rungs numbered from zero to 10, where zero represents the worst possible life and 10 represents the best possible life.
Young people’s ratings of where they see their lives in the near future differ depending on their country’s income level, as categorized by the World Bank. Young people living in low-income economies rate their lives in five years the worst of any of the income groups, with life ratings that are more than a full point lower than young people in high- and upper-middle-income economies.
We also investigated how young people’s optimism about their future relates to their current positive feelings and experiences, including balance, harmony, inner peace, ease of mind, contentment, and feelings of safety and security.
When it comes to these feelings, young people in low-income economies are less likely than those in high-income economies to report that they “always” or “often” experience them (with percentages in middle-income economies typically falling between those in high- and low-income countries).
Although young people in low-income economies are, on average, the least likely to say they always or often feel this way, several positive feelings and experiences stand out: experiencing harmony with their thoughts and feelings (55%), feeling stability and security in life (53%), and feeling that their mind is at ease (52%). More than half of the youth in low-income economies report always or often experiencing these feelings.
Moreover, 71% of these youth in low-income economies report feeling harmony with those around them. In fact, feeling in harmony with others is the most frequently reported experience for youth in all income groups. By comparison, the least frequently reported experiences in all country-level income groups relate to feelings of balance in life, the amount of things happening being right and inner peace.
Young people’s optimism about their future and their daily experiences are interrelated, but how they are related varies across country-level income groups.
Being content with their current lives emerges as a constant link to young people’s hope for their future across most income groups, except in high-income economies. For young people in high-income countries, feeling stable and secure in their lives and finding inner peace are positively related to their hope for the future.
However, feeling their mind is at ease negatively relates to how young people in high-income countries foresee the quality of their lives in the near future. It is possible that in high-income countries, discovering and sorting through abundant learning and development opportunities comes to mind when young people ponder their immediate future. This, in turn, can translate into a “busy mind” rather than a “mind at ease.”
That feeling their mind is at ease negatively relates to future life evaluations is unique to youth in high-income countries, with the opposite being true for low-income countries. Young people living in low-income countries who feel their mind is at ease are more likely to foresee a better life for themselves than those who do not find their mind at ease.
Feeling their current life has balance is related to young people’s hope for the future only in lower-middle-income countries. Young people may be disproportionately focused on one or two dimensions, such as education, career opportunities, or assimilating into family or community norms and expectations. This may explain why “balance” is not one of the primary links to future life evaluations in most of the world.
Although some subjective daily experiences — such as contentment — are related to how young people in most income groups foresee the quality of their future lives, other experiences — such as balance, a mind that is at ease, stability and security, and inner peace — are not universally related to young people’s evaluations of their future lives. The differences among young people in different parts of the world yield important information for education and wellbeing initiatives that specifically focus on youth.
Understanding these patterns of association, together with more nuanced analyses on determinants of a good future for young people, can provide stakeholders with locally relevant and actionable insights. We plan to carry out more advanced analyses of the data from this project.
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