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After Record Drop, U.S. Life Ratings Partially Rebound

After Record Drop, U.S. Life Ratings Partially Rebound

Story Highlights

  • Percentage "thriving" recoups most of Spring losses, but stalls in July
  • High-income earners suffer greatest COVID-era declines in life ratings
  • Daily stress and worry tick back up in July, remain significantly elevated

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The percentage of U.S. adults who evaluate their lives well enough to be considered "thriving" has partially recovered since the nearly 10-percentage-point drop to 46.4% in late April, a level last measured during the Great Recession. The thriving rate improved to as high as 53.7% in June but has since ticked down to 52.2% in July. Even so, the current rate is roughly a six-percentage-point improvement over the last three months, representing around 14 million additional adults who are thriving when compared to late April.


Line graph. The percentage of Americans who are classified as thriving. 52.2% of Americans are currently thriving. This is up from 46.4% who were thriving in April 2020.

Gallup classifies Americans as "thriving," "struggling" or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Those who rate their current life a 7 or higher, and their anticipated life in five years an 8 or higher, are classified as thriving.

The most recent results, captured July 6-26, 2020, are based on 10,259 U.S. adults surveyed by web via the Gallup Panel, a scientifically populated, non-opt-in panel of about 100,000 adults across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Prior results, dating to Sep. 30-Oct.14, 2019, were also from the Gallup Panel, while all earlier estimates are based on samples from the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index. Comparisons of national estimates that occurred at close to the same time in 2019 showed highly similar results between the two surveys demonstrating their comparability.

In 2008, the first full year of the Great Recession, the thriving percentage fell from 52.0% in January to its low of 46.4% ten months later, a 5.6-percentage-point decline. It then jumped to 51.2% in January 2009, the month of Barack Obama's inauguration, and hovered in the low 50's for several months before surpassing January 2008 levels in September 2009 -- thus fully erasing the 2008 falloff.

High-Income Households Suffered Greatest Declines in Life Evaluation

Changes in thriving percentages also vary widely based on annual household income. While individuals from higher-income households consistently rate their lives better than their lower-income counterparts, these individuals also were the most likely to suffer a decline in life ratings at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak and associated partial economic shutdown. This disparity, however, is less extreme since the partial recovery of life evaluation in the months since. As of the most recent sampling period of July 6-26, the range across income groups has converged to some degree with the top income bracket ($120,000+) showing the most improvement while the bottom bracket (<$24,000) has worsened slightly.

U.S. Life Evaluation by Annual Household Income, Trended
% Thriving
Jan. 2018-Aug. 2019 Mar. 13-Apr. 26, 2020 Change since 2018-2019 Jul. 6-Jul. 26, 2020 Change since 2018-2019
% % Pct. Pts. % Pct. Pts.
<$24,000 32.4 27.3 -5.1 26.1 -6.3
$24,000-<$48,000 42.7 33.0 -9.7 36.3 -6.4
$48,000-<$90,000 57.8 47.8 -10.0 52.0 -5.8
$90,000-<$120,000 68.6 55.1 -13.5 57.9 -10.7
$120,000+ 79.0 60.3 -18.7 67.6 -11.4
Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index and Gallup Panel

Daily Stress, Worry Tick Back Up in July

Gallup also tracks whether Americans have experienced specific emotions, including stress, worry and anger in their daily life.

An increase in daily anger in early June appears to be associated with the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests rather than the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, other negative daily experiences, such as stress and worry, increased markedly at the onset of the pandemic.

The percentage of people experiencing significant stress and worry the day before showed unprecedented increases in the first half of March, with stress rising 14 points to 60% and worry rising 20 points to 58%. These emotions subsequently leveled off and then slightly improved over the course of April, May, and June, but have now slightly reversed course in July, consistent with a leveling and slight decline in general life ratings.


Line graph. The percentages of Americans experiencing worry or stress a lot of the day yesterday. 54% of Americans currently report experiencing stress a lot of the day yesterday. 49% in the US report experiencing worry a lot of the day yesterday.


An increased proportion of American adults classified as thriving in June compared with April is likely related to both the partial reopening of the economy as well as a greater sense of normalcy in day-to-day life. In June, 4.8 million jobs were added back to the economy, giving much-needed employment to millions while also providing a potential psychological boost to the population at large. Another 1.8 million jobs were added in July, but weekly installments of $600 unemployment benefits also expired before the month's end, potentially playing a role in the uptick in stress and worry and a downtick in the thriving percentages nationally.

The substantially greater drops in the thriving percentage among individuals from high-income households compared with those from low-income households underscores the considerable differences in life experiences between the two groups. While high-income earners consistently rate their current and future lives better than do the low-income group, it is likely that they also suffered more dramatic declines in their investment and retirement savings as a result of the economic shutdowns associated with the pandemic. That the highest income bracket has since shown the greatest recovery in life ratings could, in turn, be a reflection of the substantially improved stock market since the initial downturn. Regardless of the factors influencing life ratings of persons in more affluent households, these results also suggest that even though adults from low-income households have disproportionately suffered the effects of COVID-19, they have also demonstrated to be more resilient to its consequences, perhaps due in part to preexisting low levels that reflect routine struggles in their daily lives.

Learn more about how the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index works.

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.

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