Emotions play important roles in our everyday lives. Every month, CivicScience reports on the emotional well-being of the nation – an important topic in its own right, as well as a powerful lens through which to understand consumer behavior. 

With May being Mental Health Awareness month, it’s a good time to take a more in-depth look at the current state of emotional well-being in the U.S., including how it’s evolved over the past year and the ways it’s driving consumer decisions. Several key insights were derived from The Connection Between Emotional Well-Being and Consumer Behavior (April 2023), the latest edition in the CivicScience report series covering current events and consumer psychology, which is available in full to clients.

Emotional Well-Being Is Holding Steady

While the influence of the pandemic has waned over the past year, things haven’t necessarily gotten easier for the average consumer. Over the past few months alone, consumers have had to grapple with the continued effects of high inflation, layoffs, a new round of bank failures, and — most tragically of all — more mass shootings. 

Despite any feelings of uncertainty prompted by these events, the emotional health of the average American adult is surprisingly pretty good at the moment. In the last week of April, emotional well-being reached 58.4% – the highest point seen in both 2023 and 2022 on the CivicScience Emotional Well-Being Index, a composite score based on questions about how strongly poll respondents reported feeling various emotions over the past week. Year-over-year, emotional well-being has increased more than four percentage points as of April, which can be attributed to more consumers reporting less worry and fear overall.

That said, emotional well-being has not remained completely stable over the past year. A closer look at the index reveals how several national and world events have had a substantial impact on our collective health and well-being.

Measuring the impacts of these events, CivicScience analysis finds that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was associated with the largest – and most enduring – change in emotional-well being over time. This was followed by the Uvalde school shooting, the 2022 midterm elections, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and, finally, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.

Well-Being and Consumer Spending

Our emotions play a critical role in just about every decision we make. Previous work from CivicScience has established a positive correlation between emotional well-being and overall consumer spending. But what’s remained unclear to this point is the relationship between well-being and spending within specific categories.

Using spending data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, new CivicScience findings reveal monthly changes in well-being are strongly correlated with monthly changes in personal consumption of certain products. An analysis of 364 product categories finds that just over half (194) significantly related to emotional well-being. That means large changes in emotional well-being from one month to the next are generally associated with large changes in spending in these categories. The top correlated categories include those in the travel, apparel, healthcare, and food and beverage industries.

Although changes in well-being may not cause changes in spending in these categories, they do show strong correlations.

Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being

It’s important to consider demographics and psychographics to understand the connection between well-being and consumer purchasing habits. CivicScience data show that emotional well-being varies greatly across the U.S. population. For example, well-being ranks consistently – and often significantly – lower among women, minorities, young adults, and lower-income earners, among others.

This is likely reflective of larger trends in mental health. It’s estimated that more than 2-in-5 U.S. adults are living with a mental health condition, and that rate is even higher among Gen Z adults (30%+). In particular, the number of people worldwide with anxiety and depressive disorders has increased over the COVID-19 pandemic.

New CivicScience consumer data find that 39% of U.S. adults report they struggle with anxiety or depression. Although research suggests that more people have sought out treatment for mental health since 2020, the majority of respondents with anxiety or depression are not receiving professional medical treatment. Gen Z adults are the most likely of any age group to report having anxiety or depression, while women are much more likely than men to say they suffer from one or both of these conditions.

It comes as no surprise that many Americans continue to feel there is a stigma surrounding mental health treatment. As of March, CivicScience data find that 66% of U.S. adults say they agree that today’s society judges people who seek care (such as therapy) for their mental health, while 34% disagree (n=4,178 and excludes those answering ‘I’m not sure’). That’s down from 68% in May 2022.

Things may be improving in this area, albeit slowly, and many people continue to go without treatment. In addition to stigma, data suggest medical costs, provider availability, and lack of trust are all barriers to receiving mental health treatment. For example, recent findings show that 1-in-5 U.S. adults say they do not trust mental health providers at all.

For more insights into emotional well-being, the connection to consumer behavior, consumer psychographics, and how we predict emotional well-being will change in the next several months – work with us.