Are You Happy? It May Depend on Age, Race/Ethnicity and Other Factors

"Happiness" on the Decline for Several American Population Subsets - Minorities, Recent Grads and Disabled
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Has the pursuit of happiness left Americans unhappy? Maybe, according to the Harris Poll® Happiness index, which uses a series of questions to calculate Americans' overall happiness. According to findings of a Harris Poll survey of 2,345 U.S. adults surveyed online between April 10 and 15, 2013 by Harris Interactive, only a third of Americans (33%) are very happy. (Full findings and data tables available here)

"Our happiness index offers insight into what's on the minds of Americans today and is a reflection of the state of affairs in our country," said Regina Corso, Senior Vice President of the Harris Poll. "While the attitudes on the economy may be improving, we're seeing that this is not translating into an improvement in overall happiness. For certain groups, such as minorities, recent graduates, and the disabled, they are actually subsegments of the American population where 'happiness' has trended downward in the last couple years."

The Role of Politics 
Minorities show particularly pronounced declines in happiness in the two years since the Happiness Index was last measured, with especially low happiness levels observed among the Hispanic American population. (While it is important to note that a causal link cannot be established, it may not be a coincidence that this drop coincides with a political landscape that has seen frequent, sometimes contentious, discussion of immigration policy in recent months.) Other findings include:

  • African-Americans appear to be less happy than in 2011, with 36% qualifying as very happy, down from 44% in 2011. However, though happiness is down among them, they remain roughly as happy as whites (34%); in contrast, fewer than three in ten Hispanic Americans (28%) are very happy. This represents not only a decline from 2011 (35%) but also a significantly lower percentage than seen among either whites or African-Americans.
  • Among Americans with disabilities, the percentage of those very happy has dropped from 34% to 31%, another decline which may have ties to cuts or feared cuts in services as a result of the sequester.
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A Tough Job Market 
While a smaller percentage of Americans agree that their work is more frustrating than two years ago (34%, vs. 39% in 2011), this may be less a reflection of higher worker satisfaction and more of a tough job market, with Americans realizing that in this economy, having a job is a good thing.

  • College graduates' likelihood to qualify as very happy has dropped since 2011 (from 35% to 32%), a possible casualty of a challenged job market and increasing questions of whether a college degree in this day and age is returning on the time and monetary investment.
  • Americans earning under $50,000 per year are also less likely to qualify as very happy than in 2011 (from 33% to 29% among those earning <$35,000; from 35% to 32% among those earning between $35,000-$49,999), which may be a response to anything from the struggling economy to a variety of cuts – or even feared cuts – in services as a result of the sequester.
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Looking at comparisons in happiness levels among Americans right now:

  • Those 50 and older (36% ages 50-64, 41% ages 65+) are more likely to be very happy than their younger counterparts (31% ages 18-24, 30% ages 25-29, 28% ages 30-39, 30% ages 40-49). 
  • Whites (34%) and African-Americans (36%) are both, as mentioned earlier, happier than Hispanic Americans (28%).
  • Women (35%) are happier than men (32%).
  • Political independents (32%) are significantly less likely to qualify as very happy than members of either the Democratic or Republican parties (35% each).

Turning to specific statements tested as part of the index, smaller percentages of Americans are displaying agreement that they are optimistic about the future (from 75% in 2011 to 67% in 2013), while a greater percentage than in 2011 agree that they won't get much benefit from the things that they do anytime soon (38%-42%). 

The Harris Happiness Index is calculated by asking Americans if they agree or disagree with a list of statements, some positive and others negative. Those considered very happy say they strongly agree with all of the positive statements, such as "my relationships with friends bring me happiness," "I rarely worry about my health," and "at this time, I'm generally happy with my life", and strongly disagree with all of the negative ones, such as "I frequently worry about my financial situation," and "I rarely engage in hobbies and pastimes I enjoy." 

To view the full findings, or to see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.