The Irish Times view on the World Happiness Report: a clear sign of Ireland’s generational divide

Surveys need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the gap between younger and older people in Ireland is no surprise

Given the intangible and very personal nature of the subject, any publication calling itself the World Happiness Report is best taken with a pinch of salt. But the findings on Ireland in the latest offering from US polling company Gallup and its partners, published this week, make perfect sense.

The report – which ranks countries based on their inhabitants’ own assessments of their lives – placed Ireland 17th out of 142 countries, down from 13th in 2022 and 14th in 2023. Bobbing around at the top of the list as it does feels about right for one of the world’s better-off countries.

The real take away for Ireland, however, is the widening gap in terms of happiness between so-called Boomers (born in the years before 1965) and the younger age cohorts such as Millennials and Generation Z ,who were born between 1981 and 2012.

The report finds people under 30 are the unhappiest in Ireland even if they, as a group, at 21st in the world, are happier than most of their peers globally. The happiest cohort in Ireland are those aged between 45 and 59 and as a group they rank 16th in the world. This increasing divergence in happiness between young and old is a common trend across North America and to a lesser extent Western Europe.

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The report measures happiness by looking at things such as income per capita and healthy life expectancy. But it also asks people whether they have someone to count on and the freedom to make life choices. It also questions whether they donate money and believe their government is corrupt. The final piece of the jigsaw is whether respondents felt positive or negative emotions the previous day.

It does not require too much statistical analysis to see how someone aged over 45 in Ireland who grew up in the pre-social media age, is in a secure jobs and is on the way to paying off their mortgage is going to answer these questions very differently to someone under 45 confronted by the housing crisis, precarious work and a life shaped by their smart phone and social media algorithms.

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