There is an "alarming" wellbeing gap between younger and older age groups, according to a landmark study by a charity.
The survey of nearly 7,000 people for Carnegie UK unearthed people aged 55 and over consistently reported better standards of living than younger generations.
The 'Life in the UK' survey asked a range of questions on economic, social, environmental and democratic topics to reach an 'overall wellbeing score' out of 100.
While the national average was 62, over 55's scored 65, but those aged 16-35 scored 59 and those aged 35-54 scored 60.
Additionally, looking just at the youngest (16-35) and oldest groups (55 and over), the oldest scored 8 points higher in social wellbeing, 6 points higher in economic wellbeing, 10 points higher in environmental wellbeing, and 3 points higher in democratic wellbeing.
To note, Gen Z's are currently 11-26 in age and Millennials are 27-42, so both fall into the youngest category. Meanwhile, Generation X are currently 43-58, and Boomers are anything between 59-77 so both fall into the oldest (though more so of the latter).
The survey also found widespread levels of disillusionment with politics across all age groups, with an average of 73% feeling they cannot influence decisions that affect the whole of the UK and 56% saying they feel powerless with local decisions.
The charity noted that the overall scores were brought down considerably by such poor scores on democratic wellbeing, with older generations also saying they felt disconnected.
"Our new Life in the UK index highlights an alarming gap between the life experience of young and old in our country," says Sarah Davidson, chief executive of Carnegie UK.
"The detailed research shows that if you’re a person under the age of 55 in the UK, you’re more likely to find yourself in economically precarious circumstances and to feel as though you’ve no-one to rely upon in your neighbourhood. Younger age groups report poorer air quality and a lack of local green space, and these citizens are more likely to be politically disaffected."
Davidson has called on UK decision-makers to work harder to close the wellbeing gap between the young and old. "While that means looking at tax and welfare policies, we must also look at new ways of hardwiring younger people’s interests and priorities into our public policy."
So, why does the wellbeing gap exist in the first place and why do certain factors affect our mental health?
The wellbeing gap: A closer look
A wellbeing gap between younger and older generations ultimately isn't good for any of us. "It can build a sense of resentment, disconnection and misunderstanding. This can polarise people of different ages, and make them feel more isolated, and less part of a cohesive community that works together," explains Georgina Sturmer, counsellor, MBACP.
But first of all, looking at all those under 55, how can things like being in an 'economically precarious circumstance', feeling as though you have no one to rely on in their neighbourhood, and poorer air quality and a lack of green space affect wellbeing?
"We all have basic, material needs that need to be met in order for us to feel a sense of security in our everyday life. This includes the quality of the homes that we live in, and our ability to feed, heat and clothe ourselves so that we can be comfortable. If these needs aren’t met, then it can be nigh on impossible to focus on improving other aspects of our wellbeing," says Sturmer.
"Social connections and support are protective against anxiety. It makes sense: if you’re worried, then it can feel less overwhelming if you know that there’s someone who you can call on if you need help. If we don’t have these connections then it can leave us feeling isolated and vulnerable."
And, she adds, "We all need to feel that we can breathe clean air and connect with the outdoor environment in order to stay grounded and to retain perspective on our lives. If it’s difficult for us to access the outside world, or if our environment is polluted, then it can leave us feeling trapped in the whirl of our brightly lit artificial indoor environments."
In terms of the widespread levels of disillusionment, Sturmer says on the effect, "If we feel politically powerless or disenfranchised, it can have an impact in our own personal lives too. We might find ourselves feeling helpless, as if what we do or say doesn’t really matter, as if we don’t have a voice. This can lead us to suppress how we feel, or to feeling numb or depressed."
And if you feel like you have a lack of influence over the world you live in, whether locally or nationally, the counsellor explains this can also lead to a fear of anxiety about the future, like fears about what our economy, society and environment will eventually look like.
But why might those aged 16-34, in particular, have the lowest wellbeing score? "In many ways, this age group has been hit the hardest by the Covid pandemic and by the rise of social media. These events have heightened a sense of social anxiety, isolation and powerlessness," suggests Sturmer.
While the youngest group report better health than those 55+, as age increases, the likelihood of bad mental health also decreases.
"Thinking about Gen Z, these are young people whose teenage years were deeply affected by the pandemic. During Covid, they absorbed the message that social connections were unsafe. They didn’t have the opportunities that we would usually associate with our teenage years. This includes learning how to take risks, how to build connections and discover their identities," Sturmer explains.
"For younger Millennials, the pandemic coincided with key years of adulthood. When they would have been building their own social structures in the workplace and away from their family home. For those who became parents during this period, there has been an increased sense of isolation and lack of human connection too."
Based on the latest survey, to help close the wellbeing gap and forge strong relationships between the state and its citizens to help develop policy that meets people's needs, Davidson urges, "We believe that all spheres of government should roll out initiatives like citizens' juries and meaningful participatory budgeting to restore trust and increase transparency."
Sturmer also suggests, "Projects and initiatives that encourage connection between the generations are vital. They remind us that we can seek support and connection from people at all ages and stages of life."
The figures in the survey are based on a survey of 6,941 UK adults between May 18 and 24, conducted in association with pollster Ipsos UK.
If you are struggling and want someone to talk to you can call Samaritans on 116 123 or speak to your GP.
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