The proportion of young women experiencing very high levels of life satisfaction and happiness and very low levels of anxiety fell in the five years up to the coronavirus pandemic, a study of wellbeing indicators has found.
Around a third (33.8%) of more than 4,000 UK adults aged 20-24 reported very low levels of anxiety in 2019-20, down from 43.2% five years prior, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
And 29.6% of 2,440 women aged 20-24 reported very low levels, down from 42.7% respectively in 2014-15.
There was also a significant fall in men aged 20-24 reporting very low levels of anxiety – from 43.8% in 2014-15 to 38.1% of 1,850 men in 19-20.
Women aged 20-24 also saw drops in life satisfaction and happiness.
Some 25.5% of the women aged 20-24 reported very high life satisfaction in March, down from 29.7% the previous year.
And 29.5% reported very high happiness, down from 36.3% in 2014-15.
The analysis of wellbeing measures, taken from the ONS annual population survey, relates to a period before the coronavirus outbreak took hold in the UK.
Analysis of the latest data from the Understanding Society study also suggests there is evidence of increasing anxiety, and depression, in young adults aged 16 to 24 before the pandemic.
A quarter (24.9%) of 3,250 adults aged 16-24 reported some evidence of these mental health conditions in 2017-18, up from 20.8% the previous year, the ONS said.
Nearly a third (31.3%) of 1,760 young women reported some evidence of these mental health conditions in 2017-18, up from 25.7% the previous year.
There was also a fall in young people’s satisfaction with their health. Just over half (52%) of 3,290 respondents said they were mostly or completely satisfied in 2017-18, down from 58.7% the previous year.
An increasing proportion of young people said they were struggling financially, and there was also a fall in the proportion of respondents feeling a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood.
The survey noted that almost three quarters (74%) of women aged 16-24 feel safe walking alone in their local area after dark during 2019-20 – up from 58% five years prior.
Eleanor Rees, head of the ONS’s social wellbeing team, said: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on young people’s mental health and wellbeing is naturally a focus for many at present and something that the ONS is also exploring.
“The research we have published today gives a pre-pandemic perspective, making it a useful starting point to understand what has changed since.
“What we noted in particular were adverse effects on wellbeing and anxiety for women aged 20 to 24 years compared to five years ago.”
The ONS also collected 48 children’s views on wellbeing and what makes a happy life.
Children aged 10-15 consistently said feeling loved, having positive supportive relationships with friends and family, and having someone to talk to and rely on were their top priorities.
They described feeling safe as an essential element of their happiness, and that being themselves and expressing themselves without judgment was crucial to their mental health and well-being.
Ms Rees said: “The children spoke to us before the pandemic took hold, and many aspects of life they spoke of, from time with friends and family and having enough to eat to what they need to have a happy future, may have been impacted over the past six months. This may give the findings an additional value in understanding how to support children during these times.”