We hear a lot that we’re living in an “age of anxiety,” and there’s certainly plenty going on in the U.S. and around the world to make us feel very—or even chronically—worried. But is the average person’s level of anxiety actually getting worse each year? Two national surveys by the American Psychiatric Association suggest the answer is yes.
In a poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults in 2017 and a comparable group in 2018, respondents were asked to rate their anxiety on a scale of 0 to 100 in five different areas: health, safety, finances, relationships, and politics.
The average anxiety score increased from 46 in 2017 to 51 in 2018. The increase in anxiety scores was seen across age groups, gender, and racial or ethnic background. Although millennials (born 1981–1996) were more anxious overall than generation Xers (born 1965–80) or baby boomers (born 1946–64), levels of anxiety had increased the most among baby boomers. Women reported more anxiety than men and experienced a greater increase in anxiety than men between 2017 and 2018.
Among adults ages 18 to 49, 57 percent of women and 38 percent of men reported being more anxious in 2018 than in the previous year. Among those age 50 and older, 39 percent of women and 24 percent of men said they were more anxious in 2018.
The biggest increase in stress was related to paying bills; women, adults younger than 35, and Hispanics were the most affected.
A version of this article first appeared in the UC Berkeley 2019 Depression and Anxiety White Paper.
Also see How Safe Are Anti-Anxiety Drugs?