US Ranks 15 in World Happiness

April 27, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

The United States landed the number 15 spot on the 2015 World Happiness Report, which ranks 158 countries.

The United States landed the number 15 spot on the 2015 World Happiness Report, which ranks 158 countries.

To score each country’s level of happiness, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) report considered gross domestic product (GDP), social support, healthy life expectancy at birth, the freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.

Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Canada won the top 5 spots on the list, respectively, while Togo, Burundi, Syria, Benin, and Rwanda were deemed the least happy countries.

Switzerland’s happiness score was 7.587, while the United States’ was 7.119. Togo, the least happy country, had a happiness score of 2.839.

With the help of the Gallup World Poll, the researchers compared 2012-2014 data with 2005-2007 data to see how happiness levels had changed. Of the 125 countries that had data from both time periods, 53 showed significant increases in happiness, while 41 saw significant decreases.

United States was one of the countries that saw a drop in happiness, with a decrease of 0.245 points on a 0-to-10 scale.

The report also examined how men and women differ on levels of happiness, and the researchers found women’s happiness steadily drops as they pass age 20. Men’s happiness also falls, but it is slightly higher than women’s around age 50 and beyond.

The researchers referenced previous studies that examined how women’s happiness changed from the 1970s to the mid-2000s. As more women entered the work force, research showed the female advantage in happiness was overturned. The World Happiness Report researchers surmised that discrimination, sexual harassment, stress, and uneven rewards in the workforce may explain this change.

The report also referenced the results of the World Values Survey, which gathered data in the 1980s. In the United States, the level of trust individuals place in one another was 45% in the 1981-1984 sampling, but it has since dropped to 35%. Comparatively, 2010-2014 data demonstrated 66% of individuals in the Netherlands and 61% of those in Sweden said most people can be trusted in their country.

The researchers noted countries such as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are areas where there is lower perceived corruption and inequality compared with countries such as the United States. This may help explain the lower marks in trust for the United States.

“The aspiration of society is the flourishing of its members,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and of SDSN, in a press release. “This report gives evidence on how to achieve societal well-being. It's not by money alone, but also by fairness, honesty, trust, and good health. The evidence here will be useful to all countries as they pursue the new Sustainable Development Goals.”