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2018 IF Index: How does the wellbeing of today’s twenty somethings compare to previous cohorts?

This report focuses on the newly emerging field of “wellbeing” and young people. This is a discipline that seeks to use wellbeing analysis as a way of investigating improvements or deteriorations in an individual’s quality of life.

This is brand new research that looks beyond the dry analysis of facts and figures, and seeks to understand how jobs, wages, housing costs, health and environmental factors are affecting young people’s wellbeing today.

The research takes three groups of twentysomethings over a 20-year period and tracks their survey responses.

Previous research into people’s wellbeing suggests that five domains of life are particularly crucial to human happiness:

  • Being employed and income (Economic Wellbeing)
  • Having good personal relationships (Relationships Wellbeing)
  • Physical and mental health (Health Wellbeing)
  • Liking where you live (Personal Environment Wellbeing)
  • A sense of belonging to some type of cause or belief (Belonging Wellbeing)

IF used data from the British Household Panel Survey and Understanding Society to compare how these domains have changed for three cohorts of young adults aged 20 to 29:

  • 1995 – Participants born 1964-1975
  • 2005 – Participants born 1976-1985
  • 2015 – Participants born 1986-1995

The results of this research showed that:

  • Overall wellbeing, rather than improving over the past 20 years, has actually declined by 10%.
  • Economic Wellbeing: There has been a very large fall in young people’s levels of subjective satisfaction with their financial situation since 1995, which has been compounded by lower real incomes since 2005.
  • Relationship Wellbeing: The most dramatic decline in the Index has been in the quality of family relationships in terms of young people identifying one of their relatives as one of their closest friends – declined more then 50% between 2005 and 2015 – and also in another indicator which measures how much contact people have with their closest friends; this suggests this age group may be becoming more socially isolated.
  • Health Wellbeing: There has been an alarming 25% fall since 1995 in an indicator which measures how young people assess their physical health, yet very little change in how they assess their mental health over the same period.
  • Personal Environment Wellbeing: This domain also declined significantly between 1995 and 2015, largely owing to an increase in household overcrowding.
  • Belonging Wellbeing: There have been very large declines in levels of volunteering, interests in politics and observing a religion among this age group since 2005, which are proxies for the level of trust in society and sense of belonging.

• IF calls for more attention to be given to the issue of wellbeing among young adults, in particular the issue of social isolation which clearly affects people of all ages.