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Trends and geographic variation in population thriving, struggling, and suffering across the US, 2008-2017: A retrospective repeated cross-sectional study

Citation

Herrin, Jeph (2021), Trends and geographic variation in population thriving, struggling, and suffering across the US, 2008-2017: A retrospective repeated cross-sectional study, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.fqz612jsf

Abstract

Objectives: Wellbeing is a holistic, positively framed conception of health, integrating physical, emotional, social, financial, community, and spiritual aspects of life. High wellbeing is an intrinsically worthy goal for individuals, communities, and nations. Multiple measures of wellbeing exist, yet we lack information to identify benchmarks, geographical disparities, and targets for intervention to improve population life evaluation.

Design: Using data from the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, we conducted retrospective analyses of a series of cross-sectional samples.

Setting/Participants: We summarized select wellbeing outcomes nationally for each year, and by county (N=599) over two time periods, 2008-2012 and 2013-2017.

Main Outcome Measures: We report percentages of peopole thriving, struggling, and suffering using the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale, percentages reporting high or low current life satisfaction, percentages reporting high or low future life optimism, and changes in these percentages over time.

Results: Nationally, the percentage of people that report thriving increased from 48.9% in 2008 to 56.3% in 2017 (p<0.05). The percentage suffering was not significantly different over time, ranging from 4.4% to 3.2%. In 2013-2017, counties with the highest life evaluation had a mean 63.6% thriving and 2.3% suffering while counties with the lowest life evaluation had a mean 49.5% thriving and 6.5% suffering, with counties experiencing up to 10% suffering, three-fold the national average. Changes in county-level life evaluation also varied. While counties with the greatest improvements experienced 10-15% increase in the absolute percentage thriving or 3-5% decrease in absolute percentage suffering, most counties experienced no change and some experienced declines in life evaluation.

Conclusions: The percentage of the US population thriving increased from 2008 to 2017 while the percentage suffering remained unchanged. Marked geographic variation exists indicating priority areas for intervention.

Methods

Cellphone and landline survey collected with structured sampling design.