Happiness at Different Ages: The Social Context Matters
This paper uses a variety of individual-level survey data from several countries to test for interactions between subjective well-being at different ages and variables measuring the nature and quality of the social context at work, at home, and in the community. While earlier studies have found important age patterns (often U-shaped) and social context effects, these two sets of variables have generally been treated as mutually independent. We test for and find several large and highly significant interactions. Results are presented for life evaluations and (in some surveys) for happiness yesterday, in models with and without other control variables. The U-shape in age is found to be significantly flatter, and well-being in the middle of the age range higher, for those who are in workplaces with partner-like superiors, for those living as couples, and for those who have lived for longer in their communities. A strong sense of community belonging is associated with greater life satisfaction at all ages, but especially so at ages 60 and above, in some samples deepening the U-shape in age by increasing the size of the life satisfaction gains following the mid-life low.
The authors thank the Gallup Organization and Statistics Canada for access to data, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research for research support. Wang is grateful to the KDI School of Public Policy and Management for financial support. We acknowledge helpful comments from readers and conference participants, especially Andrew Oswald and Arthur Stone.
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