January 5, 2023 | View this edition in your browser.
 Welcome to What Could Go Right?, where we’re wondering if you’re feeling optimistic about 2023. Write to us and let us know why or why not. We have some answers from Canada already: in this January survey, 6 in 10 Canadians say they are optimistic about 2023—and an honestly surprising number, 45 percent, are optimistic about making meaningful progress on climate change. 

Modern teens are healthy squares
Teens these days are much better behaved than we were. In a new paper published in Social Science & Medicine, the authors document dramatic declines in the kind of behaviors that have defined teens for generations: drinking, smoking, partying, and having sex. Over the last 25 years in various high-income countries like the United States, Australia, and England:

  • Daily cigarette smoking has declined by over 80 percent

  • The prevalence and frequency of drinking declined markedly between 2000 and 2015, including heavy episodic drinking

  • Cannabis use is down from the 1990s, but current rates vary across countries

  • Teens are having sex for the first time at older ages

  • Juvenile crime rates have declined between 40 and 80 percent 

You can see exact statistics for each country and all charts here

There’s more for the US in particular. Last month the nonpartisan research center Child Trends collated data from the National Center for Health Statistics on teen pregnancy. They found that teen birth rates have declined 77 percent in the past 30 years.

While Child Trends chalks up the drop to less sexual activity and more contraceptive use, The New York Times did a treatment on the topic that tied together the lower rates of teen births with the amelioration of child poverty—a 59 percent drop nationwide from 1993 to 2019. “Does cutting teen births reduce child poverty, or does cutting child poverty reduce teen births?” the article asks.

And doesn’t answer, as we don’t know. While it does seem clear that larger trends around teens having sex later would lead to fewer pregnancies, why teen behavior has changed so much as a whole is a second question that is, for now, unanswered. 

The Social Science & Medicine paper does devote time to examining it, though, coming up with several interesting threads to follow. Here’s what we do know: teens are definitely spending less face-to-face time with friends, which may help explain the lack of partying and its associated behaviors. That is potentially troubling. It is not, however, because teens are on their screens all the time instead of hanging out, as the common narrative goes. “Rather,” the paper authors write, “there is evidence that digital communication typically facilitates or complements in-person socializing among young people.” And there is also evidence that teens who are on the internet heavily are more likely to smoke and drink than those who aren’t.

So perhaps something more wholesome is going on. The paper goes through many other possible factors that could be influencing teen behavior in addition to less hang-out time, including older, better educated parents; more involved fathers; authoritarian parenting becoming less common; declining rates of child physical and sexual abuse; teens seeing the “party lifestyle” as incompatible with their academic and career success; better knowledge of health risks; and a lot more. 

We can't come to conclusions without further research. But for now it’s safe to say that today's teens are on the straight and narrow more than we were. And they are likely on the road to longer, healthier lives, too.

Before we go
After a particularly violent 2020 and 2021, while the US was going slightly bonkers from the combination of the pandemic and politics, 2022 data from two dozen US cities is showing falling murder rates, due to a decline in gun violence. Substacker and data analyst Jeff Asher digs into the data here to see if this is a sign of a long-term trend or not. 

Pair that analysis with this New York Times op-ed on the successes of reframing gun control as gun safety, and the public support of such. It will be a much-needed tonic for those feeling broken by shootings in the US.

And, Zambia has become the latest of 25 sub-Saharan African nations to abolish the death penalty.

Below in the links section, asteroid-hunting spacecraft, legalized hallucinogenic mushrooms, a new battery with four times the energy storage capacity of lithium, and more.

—Emma Varvaloucas

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"There are more than a billion fewer people living below the International Poverty Line of $2.15 per day today than in 1990," Our World in Data notes in their key insights on poverty. "On average, the number declined by 47 million every year, or 130,000 people each day."
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Other good stuff in the news 

Energy & Environment: Science & Tech: Politics & Policy: Public Health: Society & Culture: TPN Member originals  
(Who are our Members? Get to know them.)
Department of Ideas 
(A staff recommendation guaranteed to give your brain some food for thought.)

The political is not personalThe Liberal Patriot
Americans need to keep politics separate from ordinary life.

Why we picked it: Politics has taken over our lives, and a lot of Americans are tired of it. Here are three suggestions for how to counteract "politics creep."  —Emma Varvaloucas
Until next Thursday, were the predictions made in 1923 about 2023 correct? See for yourself. 

Zachary Karabell | Founder 
 Emma Varvaloucas | Executive Director 
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Past Progress
Previously on What Could Go Right?
  • 99 good news stories: 2022’s human rights victories, environmental wins, and health and development milestones (December 22, 2022)
  • Nuclear fusion breakthrough! Why the fusion news is significant, although far from an immediate climate fix. (December 15, 2022)
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Hey, thanks for making it down this far. Here's a baby emu.