Advertisement

Do Humans Suffer a Psychological Low in Midlife? Two Approaches (With and Without Controls) in Seven Data Sets

  • David G. Blanchflower
  • Andrew J. OswaldEmail author
Chapter

Abstract

Using seven recent data sets, covering 51 countries and 1.3 million randomly sampled people, the paper examines the pattern of psychological well-being from approximately age 20 to age 90. Two conceptual approaches to this issue are possible. Despite what has been argued in the literature, neither is the ‘correct’ one, because they measure different things. One studies raw numbers on well-being and age. This is the descriptive approach. The second studies the patterns in regression equations for well-being (that is, adjusting for other influences). This is the ceteris-paribus analytical approach. The paper applies each to large cross-sections and compares the patterns of life-satisfaction and happiness. Using the first method, there is evidence of a midlife low in five of the seven data sets. Using the second method, all seven data sets produce evidence consistent with a midlife low. The scientific explanation for the approximate U-shape currently remains unknown.

References

  1. Argyle, M. (2001). The psychology of happiness (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Baird, B., Lucas, R. E., & Donovan, M. B. (2010). Life satisfaction across the life span: Findings from two nationally representative panel studies. Social Indicators Research, 99, 183–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2008). Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle? Social Science & Medicine, 66, 1733–1749.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2009). The U-shape without controls: A response to Glenn. Social Science & Medicine, 69, 486–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carstensen, L. L., Turan, B., Scheibe, S., Ram, R., Ersnser-Hershfield, H., Samanez-Larkin, G. R., Brooks, K. P., & Nesselroade, J. R. (2011). Emotional experience improves with age: Evidence based on over 10 years of experience sampling. Psychology and Aging, 26, 21–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Charles, S. T., Reynolds, C. A., & Gatz, M. (2001). Age-related differences and change in positive and negative affect over 23 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 136–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheng, T., Powdthavee, N., & Oswald, A. J. (2017). Longitudinal evidence for a midlife nadir: Result from four data sets. Economic Journal, 127, 126–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Easterlin, R. A. (2003). Explaining happiness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100, 11176–11183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Easterlin, R. A. (2006). Life cycle happiness and its sources: Intersections of psychology, economics and demography. Journal of Economic Psychology, 27, 463–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2002). Happiness and economics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Frijters, P., & Beaton, T. (2012). The mystery of the U-shaped relationship between happiness and age. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 82, 525–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Galambos, N. L., Fang, S., Krahn, H. J., Johnson, M. D., & Lachman, M. E. (2015). Up, not down: The age curve in happiness from early adulthood to midlife in two longitudinal studies. Developmental Psychology, 51, 1664–1671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gerstorf, D., Ram, N., Mayraz, G., Hidajat, M., Lindenberger, U., Wagner, G. G., & Schupp, J. (2010). Late life decline in well-being across adulthood in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States: Something is seriously wrong at the end of life. Psychology and Aging, 25, 477–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Glenn, N. D. (2009). Is the apparent U-shape of well-being over the life course a result of inappropriate use of control variables? A commentary on Blanchflower and Oswald. Social Science and Medicine, 69, 481–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Graham, C., & Pozuelo, J. R. (2017). Happiness, stress, and age: How the U curve varies across people and places. Journal of Population Economics, 30, 225–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hellevik, O. (2017). The U-shaped age-happiness relationship: real or methodological artifact? Quality & Quantity, 51, 177–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Helliwell, J., & Grover, S. (2014). How’s life at home? New evidence on marriage and the set point for happiness (NBER Working Paper #20794). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  19. Hudson, N. W., Lucas, R. E., & Donellan, M. B. (2016). Getting older, feeling less? A cross-sectional and longitudinal investigation of developmental patterns in experiential well-being. Psychology and Aging, 31, 847–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lachman, M. E. (2015). Mind the gap in the middle: A call to study midlife. Research in Human Development, 12, 327–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mroczek, D. K., & Kolanz, C. M. (1998). The effect of age on positive and negative affect: A developmental perspective on happiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1333–1349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mroczek, D. K., & Spiro, A. (2005). Change in life satisfaction during adulthood: Findings from the veterans affairs normative aging study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 189–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schwandt, H. (2016). Unmet aspirations as an explanation for the age U-shape in well-being. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 122, 75–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shields, M. A., & Wheatley Price, S. (2005). Exploring the economic and social determinants of psychological well-being and perceived social support in England. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 168, 513–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Steptoe, A., Deaton, A., & Stone, A. A. (2015). Subjective wellbeing, health, and ageing. Lancet, 385, 640–648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Stone, A. A., Schwartz, J. E., Broderick, J. E., & Deaton, A. (2010). A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 107, 9985–9990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ulloa, B. F. L., Moller, V., & Sousa-Poza, A. (2013). How does subjective well-being evolve with age? A literature review. Journal of Population Ageing, 6, 227–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Weiss, A., King, J. E., Inoue-Murayam, M., Matsuzama, T., & Oswald, A. J. (2012). Evidence for a midlife crisis in great apes consistent with the U-shape in human well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Scences USA, 109, 19949–19952.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wunder, C., Wiencierz, A., Schwarze, J., & Küchenhoff, H. (2013). Well-being over the life span: Semiparametric evidence from British and German longitudinal data. Review of Economics and Statistics, 95, 154–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  2. 2.University of StirlingStirlingScotland
  3. 3.NBERCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.University of WarwickWarwickUK
  5. 5.IZA Institute for the Study of LaborBonnGermany

Personalised recommendations