Youth Study: Why are young people so dissatisfied with their lives?

Health youth study

Why satisfaction is so low between the ages of 10 and 24

Although life satisfaction is not identical to mental health, mental disorders are clearly increasing among young people

Although life satisfaction is not identical to mental health, mental disorders are clearly increasing among young people

Quelle: Getty Images

Some of the most far-reaching changes in brain structure take place during adolescence. Researchers have now found that life satisfaction decreases drastically from late childhood through adolescence to adulthood. There are different explanations for the reasons.

EParents of grumpy teenagers may already have guessed: at no other time in life does satisfaction with one’s own existence drop as steeply as in adolescence. This is shown by the analysis of German and British data, researchers report in the journal “Royal Society Open Science”. The decline in girls probably begins earlier than in boys, and the values ​​level off later.

The scientists suspect that the cause is that girls go through certain developmental phases, such as puberty, earlier than their male peers.

The authors, led by Amy Orben from the University of Cambridge (Great Britain), usually only measure life satisfaction in studies from the age of 16 to 18. Such studies often result in a U-shaped curve that seems paradoxical: the subjectively felt satisfaction with life initially decreases until early and middle adulthood, followed by an increase again in old age – although in middle age objective characteristics such as income are usually better than before and although influencing factors such as health deteriorate noticeably in old age.

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The new study now shows: During adolescence – the age of about 10 to 24 years – the decline in life satisfaction is steepest. This applies above all to the first years of this development phase. According to the analysis, no other period of similar length has seen such a sharp decline. Adolescence is the time from late childhood through puberty to adulthood with extensive physical, emotional and social maturity.

The researchers analyzed life satisfaction data from around 37,000 adolescent participants from Great Britain and Germany aged 10 to 24 years and from more than 95,000 adult participants aged 25 and over.

Information on perceived satisfaction from the British household survey “Understanding Society” and the long-term study “SOEP” (Socio-Economic Panel) by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) were used. The data used extends up to 2018, i.e. does not include the period of the corona pandemic.

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Orben’s team explains that some of the most far-reaching changes in brain structure and function take place during adolescence. They affect cognitive abilities as well as social behavior and mental health – and that in the long term. Therefore, understanding how subjective well-being develops in adolescence is important for promoting well-being throughout the life course.

The study cannot explain why life satisfaction decreases so drastically in this phase of life. The researchers explain that there are various possible explanations. One is a deterioration caused by increasing social insecurity or uncertainty as a result of certain development-related changes.

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Although life satisfaction is not identical to mental health, mental disorders such as depression or anxiety are clearly on the rise among young people and other forms of subjective well-being are declining. “This supports the assumption that life satisfaction decreases due to a decrease in quality of life,” says Orben’s team.

Another possible explanation is that the evaluation process that determines the answer to the question about life satisfaction changes over the course of adolescence. For example, the increased comparison of one’s own life with that of other people according to competitive standards could have an influence. Relationships with peers are crucial at this age, and adolescence is often a time of social reorientation.

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