You’ve seen the lists. You’ve rolled your eyes. And you’ve probably scoffed at a few of the “first world problems” people love to hate. But some of them actually have merit as real problems. Here are the top first world problems that actually impact our quality of life.
1. Work-life balance — or lack thereof
Reddit user Eosh pointed out that in the United States in particular, we work entirely too hard. “Myself and a lot of people I know simply don’t take vacations anymore because we have too much work to do all the time. We just accrue vacation days and never really use them.”
Time reports that in 2015, the French worked an average of 1,482 hours per year. By contrast, American workers worked about 1,790 hours, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Meanwhile, U.S. workers only get an average of 15 days off per year. The French get about 30, according to a 2015 survey from Expedia.com. While American employees take about 73% of their allotted vacation time, German and French workers take nearly all of the vacation time they’re allowed.
Next: That can contribute to the next set of problems.
2. A rise in chronic illnesses
Another Reddit user noted that chronic, autoimmune diseases are on the rise. A number of hypotheses exist as to why these diseases have risen, including greater awareness and associated diagnoses. Geoff Rutledge, M.D., Ph.D., a California-based physician and chief medical officer at HealthTap, explained why. “A recent review of literature concluded that worldwide rates of rheumatic, endocrinological, gastrointestinal, and neurological autoimmune diseases are increasing by 4 to 7% per year,” he told Shape. The greatest increase has occurred in Western and Northern hemispheres. Both genetics and environmental factors, like smoking, can lead to autoimmune issues, according to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Next: In turn, diseases like these can impact these first world problems.
3. Life expectancy and quality of life
Reddit user imakenosensetopeople pointed out that life expectancy and quality of life do not necessarily balance out. “We’re really good at keeping people alive longer, but [not good] at that extra time being relevant or meaningful,” the user noted. Columbia University’s Health and Aging Policy Fellows write that by 2030, 71 million Americans will be 65 and older.
In addition, a study conducted by the University of Southern California analyzed U.S. vital statistics from 1970-2010. Authors found that the average total life span increased for men and women in those 40 years, but so did the proportion of time spent living with a disability. The study found increased longevity is not necessarily indicative of good health. Most age groups live longer with a disability or other health problems.
Next: This issue keeps many Americans down.
4. The gap between poverty and middle class
Reddit user GreasyBud articulated something many Americans experience. He makes $25,000 per year in his full-time job, but does not qualify for government assistance. Because of his salary, he makes too much for tuition reimbursement to better his situation, and finds himself stuck in his current job and income bracket.
The Government Accountability Office recently found that millions of families with a worker earning the federal minimum or just above it are living in poverty. About 20% of families with a worker earning up to the federal minimum wage, 13% of families with a worker earning above federal minimum wage to $12, and 5% of families with a worker earning $12.01 to $16 per hour lived in poverty between 1995 and 2016.
Next: You may have seen this set of problems in the news lately.
5. Affordable (or no) healthcare
Reddit user Tykenolm pointed to the affordability issue surrounding American healthcare. “There are so many things that I would go to the doctor for if I could,” they explained. “But even the appointment to discuss treatment and diagnosis is too expensive.” Random5924 chimed in that even time off to get the appointment can cripple a person’s finances. “Most employers will let you have off, but you won’t be getting paid. So someone barely making ends meet might not be able to afford the couple of hours it takes to go,” they said.
A study by payroll processing firm ADP found employees making $45,000 or more per year buy into employee-sponsored healthcare 82% of the time. Workers making $15,000 to $20,000 a year buy employer-sponsored individual insurance only 37% of the time. When the Affordable Care Act took effect, around 7.5 million taxpayers paid the fine for remaining uninsured, according to a preliminary report by the Internal Revenue Service. That came in significantly more than the three to six million the government forecasted. That suggests the financial burden of buying even the cheapest healthcare remains out of reach.
Next: These problems lead to burnout in many Americans.
6. Remote access to work
Spazzy Lemur pointed out that technology leads to overwork for many of us. “Some even get calls or emails in the middle of the night or early in the morning (before they leave for work), and on weekends, to fix unforeseen errors,” she wrote. “So going home doesn’t mean being off work. It just means having to remote access into the network and try to collaborate with others at their homes to work at it for several hours.”
A study by Accenture found that 75% of respondents work frequently or occasionally during paid time off, and 70% said technology brings work into their personal lives. In all, 40% of respondents consider themselves workaholics. When these behaviors become the norm, that’s bad news for the majority.
Next: This next issue affects millions of Americans.
7. Mild depression and other mental illness
Reddit user mycatiswatchingyou explained the internal battle that ensues for people with mild depression or other mental illness. “I was raised to value hard work, pull my own weight, and be resourceful enough to live independently,” they wrote. “I’m scared to reach out because I don’t want to seem like I’m making excuses to not do things.” In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General labeled stigma as perhaps the biggest barrier to mental health care.
That stigma has powerful effects. For perhaps the same reason, of the 450 million people worldwide who suffer from mental health conditions, the World Health Organization reported that 60% do not receive any form of care. The Centers for Disease Control reported that stigma may result in a lower prioritization of public resources and poorer quality of care. One research review listed stigma as the top reasons why people with mental illness did not engage in medication adherence, thus worsening their overall health.
Next: These health problems also affects the first world disproportionately.
8. Obesity impacts both individuals and society
Reddit user Disturbingly-Honest wrote that “more people die from obesity-related causes than from war, crime, starvation, and disease combined.” That fact appeared in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study also found that more than 10% of the world’s population — 107.7 million children and 603.7 adults — now ranks as obese. Vox reports that food quality, not lack of exercise, has the largest impact. Larger portion sizes and the prevalence of fast food are both to blame. While no country has yet managed to lower its obesity rates, some have kept them in check — something the U.S. could stand to learn.
Next: This next concern really cuts into Americans’ time.
9. Commuting eats up astounding amounts of time
Reddit user Kulladar, who lives in Nashville, said they see people driving upwards of an hour to and from work each day. Housing costs has something to do with it. Brookings Institution research found that on average, the number of jobs within a typical commute distance declined by 6% between 2000 and 2012, while the number of Americans who drive more than 90 minutes has skyrocketed.
The 2015 American Community Survey found the average commute rose to 26.4 minutes in 2015. According to the Department of Transportation, between 1990 and 2014, the number of Americans who live in one county and work in another also jumped from 23.5 million to 40.1 million, a 7% increase. Because many Americans can no longer afford to live in the cities where they work, they end up moving to the suburbs, leading to a higher commuting cost and ultimately, placing the highest burden on low-income families.
Next: We’re also more concerned with how others live than ever before.
10. Social media FOMO
Portarossa put it best when they said, “People are comparing the rough cut of their lives to everyone else’s highlight reel. It’s no wonder that dissatisfaction is through the roof.” While results conflict, science overall tends to agree. Social media overload has an especially detrimental effect on teens and adolescents, according to Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “I think young people, especially, look at the so-called ‘highlight reels’ people post on social and compare themselves, so they may feel depressed or negative emotions as a result,” she told Time.
Is giving up Facebook the answer? A study team from Denmark split more than a thousand Facebook users into two groups. Authors asked one group to take a week-long break from the site. Compared to those who kept logging on, the people who took a break experienced big jumps in life satisfaction and positive feelings. The more a person used Facebook before taking a break, the greater his happiness boost after giving it up, the study data shows. Overall experts agree on one thing: A balance between screen time and real, face-to-face interaction is healthiest.
Next: This policy impacts families the most.
11. Lack of paid parental leave
Reddit user YOUR_MOM_IS_A_TIMBER pointed out that lack of paid family leave in the U.S. has negative effects on women in the workplace as well as social mobility. In 2016, 14% of civilian workers could access paid family leave, according to the National Compensation Survey conducted annually by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. As per a study by Eileen Applebaum and Ruth Milkman, of all the workers who took paid family leave, 11% received less than half their usual pay. Another 39% received half their pay. About 42% received more than half, and only 8% received full pay.
While increased parental leave would help women in the workforce, it’s also good business. According to one study, women who take paid leave are 93% more likely to be in the workforce 9 to 12 months after a child’s birth than women who take no leave. A 2016 study of more than 1,500 employers also found that more than 80% of companies that offer paid family leave reported a positive impact on employee morale. In addition, more than 70% reported an increase in employee productivity.
Next: While this issue affects children the most, it ultimately hurts us all.
12. Bullying and cyber-bullying
Reddit user shf500 decried bullying, saying “other people treating you like a human being is a fundamental right.” According to StopBullying.gov, kids who get bullied often experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. They’re more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased sadness and loneliness, changing sleep and eating patterns, and other problems that persist into adulthood. Bullying also affects academics. Children who experience it are more likely to skip or drop out of school, as well as do more poorly in standardized tests and academics, overall.
The phenomenon has an effect on bystanders and bullies themselves, as well. Both bullies and bystanders are more likely to abuse alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs and engage in risk-seeking behaviors. Since children who experience bullying become adults who are part of a society, addressing the problem earlier has a huge impact down the road.
Next: This next issue feels especially stark during the holidays.
13. Pay rate disparity hurts many
RedheadInA6Speed wrote, “A pro football player makes millions of dollars to play a sport for your enjoyment. I am a paramedic and can practically bring you or your family back from the dead. I make $35,000 a year and will be attempting to stretch two days of food into nine days of food. That or return my sisters Christmas presents.” And it’s not getting any better.
Bloomberg reports that in 2016, top wage earners made 5.05 times what their lowest-income counterparts took home. That’s the widest gap in data going back to 1979, according to the Labor Department. Even though the economy has actually grown by 2.1% since 2009 and unemployment is down, wage disparity remains strong. Americans near the top of the income scale, whose weekly earnings exceed those of 90% of all full-time wage and salary workers, made at least $2,095 in a typical week last year. Those in the bottom 10% earned less than $415. Until we fix that problem, economic growth does not affect us all equally.
Next: At least on the surface, this problem appears easier to fix that most.
14. Lack of exercise
Take5b acknowledged that the connection between specific health concerns and exercise remains tenuous at best. The rise of technology means many in the first world exercise for fun or fitness, rather than as a natural part of life. Americans got 32% less exercise and stayed 43% more sedentary in 2009 than in 1965, researchers found. In a study of college students, those who used their smartphones the most had poorer results on cardio-respiratory fitness tests than those who spent less time on their phones. We could all stand to, well, stand more and move around, away from our screens or not.
Next: This issue isn’t just part of our first-world problems, but it bears mentioning nonetheless.
15. Opioid abuse
Reddit user willmaster123 pointed out that drug overdose deaths are perhaps the biggest “first world problem” around. According to The New York Times, drug overdoses now rank as the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. Opioid overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in 2017, more than guns or car accidents, and at a pace faster than the HIV epidemic did at its peak.
As a result, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency” in October. That said, he did not release additional funding for it. Had he declared the opioid epidemic a “national emergency,” as he promised to do in August, federal funds would have quickly followed. As it is, that did not happen, and opioid deaths continue to rise.
As the Times notes, the government’s data on drug deaths in 2016 broke down the growth by drug and by state for the first time. That report revealed that deaths involving synthetic opioids rose 540% in just three years. By 2019, if the epidemic continues at its current pace, we will see 115,000 drug overdose deaths a year. If we don’t do something to stop it, these kind of “first world problems” could seriously impact public health, our economy, and life in the U.S. as a whole.
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