Health and Science

A record number of states see well-being worsen

Key Points
  • Despite a booming economy, 21 states saw declines in well-being in 2017, the annual Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index found.
  • Fifteen saw declines in 2009 during the Great Recession, the study authors say.
  • The Gallup-Sharecare study didn't measure the effect the opioid crisis had on well-being, but the researchers say it likely weighed on results.
People wait for a subway at a stop in Brooklyn, New York.
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A record number of states saw well-being worsen, with declines in social, emotional and psychological health offsetting gains in physical health, according to new research.

In 2017, 21 states saw declines despite a booming economy, compared with 15 states that showed declines in 2009 during the Great Recession, the annual Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index found. None posted any statistically significant improvement for the first time in the 10 years the study has been conducted.

The national score declined to 61.5 in 2017 from 62.1 in 2016.

"Well-being as a multi-faceted measure relates to productivity and health-care costs, both of which are critical aspects to the economy," said Ashlin Jones, vice president of research and advanced data science at Sharecare. "That's why it matters to measure it and watch the trends."

Researchers interviewed more than 160,000 adults about purpose, social, financial, community and physical metrics to assess overall well-being. Two categories with steep declines were social and purpose.

Highest Well-Being States

State2017 rank2016 rank
South Dakota13
North Dakota516
New Hampshire722

More people said they experience significant worry on any given day, have little interest or pleasure in doing things, and/or have been clinically diagnosed with depression. Fewer reported having received positive energy from friends or family members, liking what they do every day, and/or having a leader in their life who makes them enthusiastic about the future.

Researchers did not measure the opioid crisis' effect on people's well-being, but it's reasonable to infer that it did weigh on well-being, said Jones and Dan Witters, the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index research director.

Overdose deaths soared last year, fueled by heroin and synthetic opioids, reducing life expectancy for the second year in a row, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lowest Well-Being States

State2017 rank2016 rank
Rhode Island4142
West Virginia5050

Economists including former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen have warned the opioid crisis has contributed to the decline in labor force participation among prime-age workers, especially men.

"What we see is a unique circumstance (than 2009)," Witters said. "We see it drop amidst significant improvements in economic indicators, and it's largely hitting on things independent on that sort of separate category of aspects of well-being. It's really a different animal than what we measured back then."

Despite the declines in social, emotional and psychological health, researchers saw gains in physical health. Obesity and diabetes figures declined. The percentage of people who exercised for 30 or more minutes for three or more days in the last week hit a record high, while the percentage of people who smoked hit a record low.

However, the improvements were not distributed equally across everyone. The widening well-being gap mirrored the widening income gap, Witters said.

To boost well-being this year, Gallup and Sharecare recommend engaging individuals and promoting sustained lifestyle changes; fostering a culture of well-being; creating an active living environment; and measuring, benchmarking and identifying opportunities.