Why are Canada's youth so unhappy?

New report shows sharp decline in happiness among Canadians under 30

Why are Canada's youth so unhappy?

New data unveiled in the 2024 World Happiness Report paints a concerning picture for Canadian youth, revealing they are "very unhappy" compared to their global counterparts.

Despite Canada's overall contentment on the world stage, a deeper analysis indicates a stark contrast in happiness levels among different age groups. 

Chris Barrington-Leigh, an associate professor at McGill University's Department of Equity, Ethics, and Policy, highlighted, “Canada is on a bit of a long-term trend of declining overall life expectations,” with young Canadians identified as “very, very unhappy.”

This insight comes from the Gallup World Poll, which assesses life satisfaction across more than 140 countries, asking individuals to evaluate their overall life. This year's report, aligning with the International Day of Happiness, has for the first time included happiness rankings by age group, revealing a sharp decline in happiness among North American youth. 

Specifically, Canadian youth under 30 are markedly less happy than those aged 60 and older, with Canada falling to the 58th spot in happiness rankings for the younger demographic, despite being ranked eighth when considering the broader population.

Factors contributing to this downturn include decreased support from family and friends, a lack of trust in government, and an increase in stress and anxiety.

“One of the securities that are important for life satisfaction is actually just stability, feeling safe,” Barrington-Leigh notes, emphasizing the uncertainty that plagues the youth's outlook on the future. 

Reflecting on the findings, Felix Cheung, who holds Canada's research chair in population well-being, avoids the term “mid-life crisis” but acknowledges the similarities.

He points to a disconnection between hard work and perceived success, particularly regarding the cost of living and housing affordability, as a possible reason for the declining happiness among young Canadians.

This sentiment is echoed in the US, where the happiness of the youth has also dipped, pushing the country out of the top 20 for the first time. 

In stark contrast, Finland and Denmark continue to top the global happiness rankings, a status attributed to their strong community support and safety nets. Cheung suggests that these countries' approach to welfare may offer insights into fostering a happier populace. 

Both Barrington-Leigh and Cheung argue that the evident unhappiness among Canadian youth should serve as a clarion call for policymakers to prioritize improving life quality and happiness.

“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 asserts.

Cheung adds that widespread unhappiness signals a systemic, rather than individual, issue, highlighting the need for structural changes to address this growing concern.