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OPINION

Why Are So Many Young People Unhappy?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Here are some unhappy statistics:

-- In America between 1946 and 2006, the suicide rate quadrupled for males ages 15 to 24 and doubled for females the same age.

-- In 1950, the suicide rate per 100,000 Americans was 11.4. In 2017, it was 14.

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-- According to Grant Duwe, director of research and evaluation at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, in the 1980s, there were 32 mass public shootings (which he defines as incidents in which four or more people are killed publicly with guns within 24 hours). In the 1990s, there were 42. In the first decade of this century, there were 28. In all the 1950s, when there were fewer controls on guns, there was one. Fifty years before that, in the 1900s, there were none.

-- Reuters Health reported in 2019, "Suicidal thinking, severe depression and rates of self-injury among U.S. college students more than doubled over less than a decade, a nationwide study suggests." The study co-author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, said, "It suggests that something is seriously wrong in the lives of young people."

This data is not only applicable to Americans. As social commentator Kay Hymowitz wrote in City Journal in 2019: "Loneliness, public-health experts tell us, is killing as many people as obesity and smoking. ... Germans are lonely, the bon vivant French are lonely, and even the Scandinavians -- the happiest people in the world, according to the UN's World Happiness Report -- are lonely, too. British prime minister Theresa May recently appointed a 'Minister of Loneliness.' ... consider Japan, a country now in the throes of an epidemic of kodokushi, roughly translated as 'lonely deaths.' Local Japanese papers regularly publish stories about kinless elderly whose deaths go unnoticed until the telltale smell of maggot-eaten flesh alerts neighbors."

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Though people have more money, better health care, better health, better housing and more education, and live longer than at any time in history, they -- especially young people -- are unhappier than at any time since data collection began.

Why has this happened?

There are any number of reasons. Increased use of illicit drugs and prescription drug abuse, and less human interaction because of constant cellphone use are two widely offered, valid explanations. Less valid explanations include competition, grades anxiety, capitalism and income inequality. And then there are young people's fears that because of global warming, they have a bleak, and perhaps no, future.

But the biggest reason may be the almost-complete loss of values and meaning over the last half-century.

Let's begin with values.

America -- and much of the rest of the West, but I will confine my discussion to America -- was founded on two sets of values: Judeo-Christian and American. This combination created the freest, most opportunity-giving, most affluent country in world history. This is not chauvinism. It is fact. And it was regarded as such throughout the world. That is why France gave America -- and only America -- the Statue of Liberty. That's why people from every country on Earth so wanted to immigrate to America -- and still do.

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Chief among American values was keeping government as small as possible. This enabled nongovernmental institutions -- Kiwanis International, Rotary International and Lions Clubs International; book clubs; the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; bowling leagues; music societies; and, of course, churches -- to provide Americans with friends and to provide the neediest Americans with help. But as government has gotten ever larger, many of these nongovernmental groups have dwindled in number or simply disappeared.

Another set of values is what is referred to as "middle-class" or "bourgeois" values. These include getting married before one has a child; making a family; getting a job so as to be self-sustaining and sustain one's family; self-discipline; delayed gratification; and patriotism.

All of these have been under attack by America's elites, with the following results:

One in 5 young Americans has no contact with his or her father (not including fathers who have died).

In 2011, 72% of black children were born to unmarried mothers. In 1965, it was 24%. In 2012, 29% of white children were born to unmarried women. In 1965, it was 3.1%.

The majority of births to millennials are to unmarried women. Yet, according to a 2018 Cigna study, single parents are generally the loneliest Americans.

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Marriage and family are the single greatest sources of happiness for most people. Yet, the percentage of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high. More Americans than ever will not get married, or they will marry so late they will not have children. In 1960, 9% of blacks ages 25 and older had never been married. In 2012, it was nearly 40%.

And I haven't even mentioned the biggest problem: the loss of meaning in young people's lives. I will discuss that in part two.

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