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Older—and Happier?

Happiness, it appears, is now coming to people at a time when most of them weren’t expecting it: in their sixties.

According to a new survey, older Americans are among the globe’s happiest people, with more financial stability and social connections than their younger counterparts. Specifically, Americans aged 60 and above ranked as the tenth-happiest people in the world, alongside peers in perennially cheerful countries like Denmark, Finland, and Sweden.

The happiness of older Americans stands in stark contrast to the rest of the country, which as a whole fell to its lowest-ever ranking, at 23rd. Indeed, Americans in their twenties are unhappier than their counterparts in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Poland, and even Latvia. Out of the 143 countries measured, Gen Zers in the US rank 62nd overall.

The study measured overall happiness, but experts point to today’s workplace as a key driver of—or impediment to—happiness. Elise Schroeter, global head of organization and talent strategies at Korn Ferry, says older people have what their younger peers are fighting for: namely, the flexibility to work when, where, and how they want, in jobs that value them and that they find meaningful. “They can do things more on their own terms,” says Schroeter.

It’s likely more than a coincidence that the average age for CEOs and other C-suite members aligns with that of the happiest Americans. Older, more senior workers who have spent most of their careers in offices are also more likely to benefit from remote work or better resist calls from managers to return to the office. They may also feel more financially secure than their younger peers, thanks to factors such as higher pay, home ownership, and accumulated savings.

Experts also note that the ongoing skills shortage is giving older Americans more freedom to work on their own terms. Four million people are expected to turn 65 every year between now and 2027, notes Shanda Mints, vice president of the RPO Analytics and Implementation team at Korn Ferry, and employers need some of these people to keep working in order to avoid a major attrition issue. As a result, older employees are able to pursue work they find more pleasurable instead of fully retiring, to stay on as independent contractors or consultants, or to come back to the workforce after leaving it altogether.

Not everything about work is a paradise for older workers, of course. Ageism is still a major unconscious bias. Older, higher-paid workers are among the first targeted in layoffs, with nearly half of those over 50 expected to lose their jobs by the time they reach 60. But even with those obstacles, they are apparently more upbeat than Americans under age 30, for which some HR officials place the blame on companies: Many corporations are still failing to address the values and needs of younger workers, contributing to their unhappiness.

The happiness study, which spanned the years 2021 to 2023, reported that Gen-Z Americans felt lonelier and less socially connected than their older peers. According to Korn Ferry data, younger people are also more likely to feel overworked and unsupported by their managers. “Happiness is when expectations and reality align,” says Mints. “Right now, those two things couldn’t be further apart for young people.”

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