Born to Be Mild? Cohort Effects Don’t (Fully) Explain Why Well-Being Is U-Shaped in Age

  • Andrew E. ClarkEmail author


The statistical analysis of cross-section data very often reveals a U-shaped relationship between subjective well-being and age. This paper uses 18 waves of British panel data to try to distinguish between two potential explanations of this shape: a pure life-cycle or aging effect, and a fixed cohort effect depending on year of birth. Panel analysis controlling for fixed effects continues to produce a U-shaped relationship between well-being and age, although this U-shape is flatter for life satisfaction than for the GHQ measure of mental well-being. The pattern of the estimated cohort effects also differs between the two well-being measures and, to an extent, by demographic group. In particular, those born earlier report more positive GHQ scores, controlling for their current age; this phenomenon is especially prevalent for women.


Subjective well-being Cohorts Fixed effects Panel data 



I am grateful to Dick Easterlin, Carol Graham, David Halpern, Mike Hagerty, Laurence Hazelrigg, Felicia Huppert, Hendrik Juerges, Nicolai Kristensen, Ken Land, Orsolya Lelkes, Andrew Oswald, Steve Platt, Claudia Senik, Andrew Sharpe, Peter Warr and Rainer Winkelmann for useful discussions. The BHPS data were made available through the ESRC Data Archive. The data were originally collected by the ESRC Research Centre on Micro-social Change at the University of Essex. Neither the original collectors of the data nor the Archive bear any responsibility for the analyses or interpretations presented here.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Paris School of Economics – CNRSParisFrance

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