Is Wellbeing U-shaped Over the Life Cycle

Department of Economics, Dartmouth College, USA.
Social Science & Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.89). 05/2008; 66(8):1733-49. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.01.030
Source: PubMed


We present evidence that psychological well-being is U-shaped through life. A difficulty with research on this issue is that there are likely to be omitted cohort effects (earlier generations may have been born in, say, particularly good or bad times). First, using data on 500,000 randomly sampled Americans and West Europeans, the paper designs a test that can control for cohort effects. Holding other factors constant, we show that a typical individual's happiness reaches its minimum - on both sides of the Atlantic and for both males and females - in middle age. Second, evidence is provided for the existence of a similar U-shape through the life-course in East European, Latin American and Asian nations. Third, a U-shape in age is found in separate well-being regression equations in 72 developed and developing nations. Fourth, using measures that are closer to psychiatric scores, we document a comparable well-being curve across the life cycle in 2 other data sets (1) in GHQ-N6 mental health levels among a sample of 16,000 Europeans, and (2) in reported depression-and-anxiety levels among 1 million UK citizens. Fifth, we discuss some apparent exceptions, particularly in developing nations, to the U-shape. Sixth, we note that American male birth-cohorts seem to have become progressively less content with their lives. Our results are based on regression equations in which other influences, such as demographic variables and income, are held constant.

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Available from: Andrew J. Oswald, Jun 29, 2015
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    • "SD = 11.75) is a continuous variable. We also include the square of age in our analysis in order to capture the curvilinear relationship between age and subjective well-being (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2008; Knight & Gunatilaka, 2011; Smyth et al., 2010). Region is coded into three categories: "
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    • "Almost all studies find a U-shaped relationship between age and SWB, with the young and old being happiest (Blanchflower and Oswald 2008; Ferrer-i-Carbonell and Gowdy 2007). Where a gender difference is detected, is that women usually report slightly higher Happiness (Alesina et al. 2004). "
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    • "Personal characteristics are also analysed. These include, for example, age, in which a U-shaped relationship with well-being is identified (Blanchflower and Oswald 2008a; Ferrer-i-Carbonell and Gowdy 2007; Cheng et al. forthcoming); gender, in which it is often found that females tend to report greater happiness (Alesina et al. 2004; Guven et al. 2012); and ethnicity, in which it is often indicated that white ethnicity is associated with greater well-being (Thoits and Hewitt 2001). However, in the latter case it can also be argued that the gap between white and other ethnicities is declining, for example in the US (Coverdill et al. 2011). "
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