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  • Writer's pictureJohn Shrawder

Events in the Lives of People Age 15 to 35 - International Comparisons

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

In the United States, people attend higher education, get jobs, and form families as they age from 15 to 35. They also have more leisure time than in the past although leisure time becomes less common after age 19.

In what ways could, these actions improve happiness or misery? What can we learn by comparing the United States to other countries?

We will compare the practices of the United States to ten other countries. We will look at leisure and amount of work, level of education, labor force participation, and family formation. We will compare the United States to countries with greater rankings of happiness like Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom and to others with lower ranking of happiness. Happiness rank was derived from the 2019 World Happiness Report, Time Use data from The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, and other statistics from the CIA World Factbook. The Time use data uses data from age 14 to 64 which is consistent across countries. The age difference may make the data different from that shown in earlier blogs.

Leisure and work.

The following table shows how the people of each country rank on the World Happiness Report and how much time is spent on leisure time and work time. We also included the ratio of leisure to paid work. Does having more leisure make us happier and does paid work make us less happy?

There is extensive variety across countries in the amount of leisure and paid work. Among the eleven countries people in Germany has the most leisure and those in Mexico the least. Japanese work the most hours and Italians the least. Italy has the highest ratio of leisure to work and Mexico has the lowest ration. The United States is near the middle on all three measures.

It is difficult to find patterns from visually inspecting the table. Two of the four countries that score higher on happiness have more leisure and three have a higher ration of leisure to paid work. Two of the five countries with lower happiness have more leisure and two have a higher ration of leisure to work.

There does not seem to be a pattern in connecting leisure to happiness but two of the three countries with very low ratio of leisure to work (China and Japan) score very low on happiness rankings.


The second table shows rank on the World Happiness Report against educational attainment for each country? Does educating everyone at a higher level make a population happier?

High School curriculum of all countries typically include math, the countries native language, Science, Perhaps a foreign language, Physical education, social sciences like History and Geography, humanities and the arts, and sometimes vocational education. Some countries encourage extracurricular activities like Music, sports, and theater. Less common course work includes computing and technology; civics citizenship, and political science; religion, ethics, philosophy; and home economics and sex and relationship.

There is extensive variety across countries in education attainment of people age 25 to 35. Canada has the highest high school graduate rate at 94% while Mexico has the lowest at 50%. Canada also has the highest college graduation rate at 62% while Mexico is lowest at 23%. France has the highest rate holding advanced degrees at 21% while Mexico is lowest at 1%.

The United States seems to emphasize high school graduation over advanced degrees. The United States has the second highest rate of high school graduation but the third lowest rate of persons with Advanced degrees.

As with Leisure, it is difficult to see a connection between happiness and high school graduation rates from visual inspection. Both more and less happy colleges typically have lower high school graduation rates that the United States.

Three of four countries with greater happiness have higher college graduation rates than the United States and three of four less happy countries have lower college graduation rates.


The third table shows rank on the World Happiness Report against labor force participation for age 15 to 24 and for females age 15 to 64. These are two groups often excluded from the labor force. In the United States persons under 18 are limited in the jobs they can pursue. Does being in the labor force make people more or less happy?

There is extensive variety across countries in the amount of labor force participation age 15 to 24. About 51% of Americans age 15 to 24 participate in the labor force and 56% of females age 15 to 64 also participate in the labor force. These are near the middle of both groups.

All the countries with greater happiness than the United States have participation rates of persons who are age 15 to 24 near that of the United States. Many of the countries with lower rates of happiness have much lower rates of labor force participation.

The effect of the participation of women is less clear. Participation in the United States is similar to that of happier countries. Many countries with a lower happiness rank also has a high participation rate for females.

Interpersonal Support and Family formation

The forth table compares the happiness rank against statistics for marriage and first child. These can be seen as indicators of the need for intense caring.

Unlike the other measures, persons in the United States marry and have children at a younger age than most other countries in this group. All countries with a higher happiness rank marry and have children at least 2 years later than in America. These countries are substantially higher on the Interpersonal Support measure on the World Happiness Survey. Some countries with a lower rank marry at a later age. However, the countries with the earliest age of marriage and having children score far behind the other countries in their happiness ranking.

The following are some opinions developed from these tables.

Visual inspection of these tables. Analysis of data from these tables can be seen as subject to error and cannot be considered as reliable as those using statistical analysis like the World Happiness Report.

Employment and Leisure. More employment should not be seen as miserable and leisure should not be seen as good. Work should be seen as a potential source of happiness. People in countries with lower rates of labor force participation for women and young people are often are the least happy.

Education. There does not seem to be a clear cut pattern between a nation’s happiness and its education accomplishments.

Family formation. Marriage and parentage at a young age should be seen as a deterrent of happiness. All countries in this group that were ranked happier than the United States had ages of marriage and parentage that were 2 years or older. Many of the countries lowest on the list of happiness have the earliest age of marriage and parenthood.

Multiculturalism. People in different countries experience education work, and family formation between age 18 and 35. However, they will face these issues at different times. Men and women also will face these issues in different ways in different countries.

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