WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Young people worldwide have an advantage over older adults when it comes to their physical well-being. In fact, in many low- to upper-middle-income economies, even young adults who are unemployed have higher physical well-being than older adults who are employed. But this is not the case in high-income economies: Young people between the ages of 15 and 29 who are unemployed are about as likely to be thriving in their physical well-being (26%) as people older than 50 with a job (24%).
These figures represent the averages for 47 high-income-economy countries Gallup polled in from 2013 to 2015, and while the averages show no difference between unemployed youth and adults aged 50 and older who are employed, there are certain countries, including the U.S., where unemployed youth fare worse than their employed elders.
Gallup and Healthways define physical well-being as having good health and enough energy to get things done daily. One of five elements of the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index, physical well-being includes two items that measure whether individuals have felt active and productive each of the last seven days and how they rate their physical health.
In analyzing the index results, Gallup and Healthways classify responses as "thriving" (well-being that is strong and consistent), "struggling" (well-being that is moderate or inconsistent), or "suffering" (well-being that is low and inconsistent).
For this analysis, employed workers are those in the workforce who are employed either full or part time for an employer or themselves, and the unemployed are not currently working but are still actively looking for a job. Physical well-being is higher for the employed versus the unemployed among all age groups in high-income economies. For young people, five percentage points separate the percentage of employed adults who are thriving in their physical well-being (31%) and those who are unemployed (26%).
In the U.S., Unemployed Youth Have Worse Physical Well-Being Than Employed Elders
While averages for high-income economies show little difference between the physical well-being of unemployed young adults compared with employed older adults, the U.S. is somewhat of an outlier, with older employed adults having higher physical well-being than unemployed youth.
In the U.S., age has less of an influence on physical well-being, while employment status -- particularly unemployment -- has a significant one. With 31% of Americans in both age groups thriving in their physical well-being, there is no difference between the well-being of employed young people and employed older adults.
But among the unemployed, the percentage of those who are thriving falls to 23% for young U.S. adults and 19% for Americans aged 50 and older. So, while no difference exists between age groups when they are employed, this is not the case for the unemployed.
Gallup and Healthways have previously highlighted the correlations between unemployment and Americans' physical health, depression and unhealthy habits such as smoking and poor eating. For some demographic groups, such as black men, unemployment takes an even greater toll on well-being.
Unemployment Takes the Greatest Toll on Physical Well-Being of the Educated
Among unemployed adults aged 15 and 29 living in high-income economies, physical well-being suffers more for those with the highest level of education. While more than a quarter of adults with an elementary or secondary education are thriving in their physical well-being, this figure drops to 15% among college graduates or those who have completed four years of school beyond high school.
Young adults in high-income economies stand to lose a great deal in terms of the effect of unemployment on their physical well-being -- and even more so among those living in the U.S. This is perhaps a characteristic of developed countries, where the differences between employed and unemployed youth are starker. In these high-income societies, unemployment seems to take more of a toll on young people.
The effect of unemployment is even more wearing on educated young adults in high-income economies. After years of additional studying, their hard work has not led them to a job. In addition, people in more developed societies may place certain stigmas on the highly educated who are unemployed.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 477,253 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2013 to 2015, in 155 countries. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.