The collective emotional well-being of U.S. adults, tracked by the CivicScience Well-Being Index, continued its month-over-month decline in September. In fact, the monthly average represents the steepest decline since things began trending downward in July, falling 0.5 points and resting at 57.5%.

Stress is up while happiness is down. A look at individual markers shows that a growing percentage of respondents reported feeling stress, which had been rising since a relative low point in June. Noticeably fewer respondents reported feeling happy or excited.

One source of stress may be the looming restart to student loan repayments, set to begin in October. People carrying student loan debt report significantly lower overall well-being than the average, and the disparity is even more pronounced when compared to people who don’t have any student loan debt. Well-being among borrowers declined precipitously from June to 53.5%, while it increased and stayed level for U.S. adults without student loan debt, at 59.7%.

It’s likely that the emotional well-being of borrowers was impacted by the striking down of the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness plan at the end of June. And as well-being correlates positively with spending, it comes as no surprise that many student loan borrowers plan to make cuts to their spending habits to prepare for repayment, especially to dining out, clothing purchases, and entertainment. Some may simply not have the means to pay back loans – new data find that nearly 1-in-2 student loan holders plan to either delay payments or simply avoid paying back their loans at all, with lower-income households being the most likely to do so.

While student loan holders aren’t solely responsible for the declining well-being of the nation – it’s estimated that 1-in-5 U.S. adults have student loan debt – they are a key segment to follow, especially throughout the busy holiday retail season.

Check back next month for the Well-Being Index update. To learn how your brand can get ahead of the curve in Q4 and beyond, get in touch.

What is the CivicScience Well-Being Index? 

Everything affects everything – that includes how a person feels at any given moment in time. The CivicScience Well-Being Index rapidly captures the collective emotional well-being of the population on a daily basis by asking thousands of survey respondents to report on how strongly they feel different emotions. Through living indexes like the Well-Being Index, CivicScience helps businesses and organizations better understand what’s driving consumer choices, empowering them with the data-driven insight needed to navigate our rapidly changing times.