Record 21 States See Decline in Well-Being in 2017

Record 21 States See Decline in Well-Being in 2017

Record 21 States See Decline in Well-Being in 2017

The FINANCIAL -- Nearly half of U.S. states saw their well-being scores decline by a statistically significant margin in 2017, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. And, for the first time in nine years of tracking changes in state well-being, no state saw statistically significant improvement from the year before.

The 21 U.S. states that saw their well-being drop in 2017 shattered the previous record set in 2009 amidst the Great Recession, when 15 states had lower well-being than the year before. The large number of states with declines in well-being in 2017 is particularly notable given that Americans' confidence in the economy and perceptions of the job market are substantially better in 2017 than they were in 2009.

These data are based on more than 160,000 interviews with U.S. adults across all 50 states, from January 2 through December 30, 2017. The Well-Being Index is a mean score comprised of many metrics and is calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 represents the lowest possible well-being and 100 represents the highest possible well-being. The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index score for the nation and for each state is based on metrics that make up five essential elements of well-being:

Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals

Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life

Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security

Community: liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community

Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

For the nation as a whole, the Well-Being Index score for the U.S. in 2017 was 61.5, a decline from 62.1 in 2016 and the largest year-over-year decline since the index began in 2008.

High and Low Well-Being States Equally Vulnerable to Decline in 2017

The states that suffered declines in 2017 are primarily located in the South and West, and include states that have been both historically high in well-being (such as Hawaii and Alaska) and low in well-being (such as Mississippi, Louisiana and Ohio). By region, the declining states were:

South: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas

West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington

East: Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia

Midwest: Missouri, Ohio

Many of the states showing declines in their well-being scores worsened on the same set of well-being metrics. These include:

An increase in experiencing significant worry on any given day
A sharp uptick in reporting "little interest or pleasure in doing things"
An increase in clinical diagnoses of depression
Elevated reports of daily physical pain
A decline in reports of receiving "positive energy" from friends and family members
A decline in having "someone who encourages you to be healthy"
A drop in reports of liking "what you do each day"
A decrease in those who have a leader in their life who makes them "enthusiastic about the future"
A decline in the percentage who report that they are reaching their goals
A reduction in satisfaction with standard of living (compared to peers)

The declines in well-being were mostly driven by drops in metrics comprising purpose and social well-being, as well as the mental health aspects of physical well-being rather than community well-being or traditional facets of physical health such as obesity, exercise or smoking.

South Dakota and Vermont Share Top Spot for First Time

Against the backdrop of deteriorating well-being nationally, South Dakota and Vermont led the nation in well-being for the first time in 2017, with Well-Being Index scores of 64.1. These scores were statistically unchanged from 2016, providing them an advantage in the rankings given broad declines elsewhere. Hawaii, which has had the highest well-being six of the previous nine years, finished 2017 with the third-highest-score.

South Dakota is no stranger to high well-being. It had the second highest Well-Being Index score in the U.S. in 2013 and has been among the six highest well-being states every year since. Vermont, which had the sixth highest well-being score in 2016, rose to its highest rank over the ten-year history of the Well-Being Index.

Hawaii and Colorado are the only two states that have made the list of the 10 highest well-being states each year since 2008. Montana and Minnesota have been among the highest 10 each year except for 2010 and 2014, respectively. Florida, Texas and California have in recent years consistently placed just outside of the highest 10.

Most of the lowest well-being states have frequented this list in the past. West Virginia, in particular, has had the lowest well-being in the nation for nine consecutive years while Louisiana -- typically on the high end of the lowest quintile -- finished in its lowest position ever.

In most cases, a difference of 0.5 to 1.0 points in the Well-Being Index score between any two states represents a statistically significant gap, and is characterized by meaningfully large differences in at least some of the individual metrics that make up the overall Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

Vermont Has Best Community and Physical Well-Being, South Dakota Best Purpose

Vermont and South Dakota's strong performance in individual elements of well-being drove their first place finishes. Vermont ranked among the top four states in community, physical, social and financial well-being. South Dakota had the best purpose well-being in 2017 and also ranked among the top three in financial and community well-being. Hawaii was among the top four states in purpose, social and community well-being.

Florida led the pack on social well-being, while North Dakota finished first on financial well-being.

Implications

The steep decline in well-being nationally in 2017 is reflected at the state level. This is a trend state and business leaders should monitor because Gallup and Sharecare research has shown that workers with higher well-being are significantly less likely to experience unplanned absenteeism, perform better while at work and have lower healthcare utilization than their counterparts.

Having high well-being across all five elements, in turn, results in individuals who are less likely to change employers voluntarily, file fewer worker compensation claims and are more resilient in the face of challenges such as layoffs or natural catastrophes than are those who are physically fit alone. People with higher well-being across the elements are better able to take care of their own basic needs, adapt readily to change and feel better able to contribute to and support the success of their organizations and communities.

Drops in well-being, therefore, increase the liability in each of these areas for the states that suffer them and should command the attention of their leaders, as weakening well-being can result in slowing the pace of an otherwise improving economy.

State leaders should monitor their well-being score and develop specific strategies to improve it. State and community leaders can study and adopt best practices from states with consistently high well-being scores such as Hawaii, South Dakota and Vermont in order to maximize the chances that their own constituents are best able to lead a life well lived.