The Atlantic

The Happiness Recession

Today’s young adults are replacing church and marriage with friendships. But there’s one thing for which they have no substitute.
Source: Adam Hester / Getty

Updated at 12:50 p.m. ET on April 8, 2019.

In 2018, happiness among young adults in America fell to a record low. The share of adults ages 18 to 34 reporting that they were“very happy” in life fell to 25 percent—the lowest level that the General Social Survey, a key barometer of American social life, has ever recorded for that population. Happiness fell most among young men—with only 22 percent of young men (and 28 percent of young women) reporting that they were “very happy” in 2018.

We wondered whether this trend was rooted in distinct shifts in young adults’ social ties—including what has called “,” that is, a marked decline in sexual activity for this group in recent years. Human beings find meaning, direction, and purpose in and through our social relationships with others. We’re happiest when our ties with others are deep and strong. And the research tells to the quality and character of our —including our friendships, community ties, and marriage. It’s also , specifically, to the frequency with which we have sex. In the of two economists who study happiness, “sexual activity enters strongly positively in happiness equations.”

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