Decline in the happiness of the young

There is a drop in wellbeing between early adolescence (aged around 15) and middle-age (around 45), followed by an upswing, in Western countries

  •  Professor Martin  BinderProfessor Martin Binder
    Agree
    I'm a bit unsure about the upswing part in older age though, as there seems to be some survivor bias in the findings, i.e. unhappy people (who are unhappy for example because they are sick) might not survive as long as happier people.

  •  Professor Mariano  RojasProfessor Mariano Rojas
    Agree
    Most studies using mean regression find this so-called U-shaped relationship between happiness (life satisfaction) and age. However, we should be careful about two issues: First, the miminum value may be reached in between late 30s to late 50s depending on many factors such as life cycle. Second, the commonly estimated U-shaped relationship does not apply to everybody, it is basically a mean regression estimated relationship. I think it would be more interesting to study different aging paths and to identify those common paths that deviate from the mean regression. It is possible to grow older while sustaining or even increasing happiness, as well as it is possible to grow older while facing a continuous decline in happiness.

  •  Doctor Daniel  BenjaminDoctor Daniel Benjamin
    Neither agree nor disagree
    There is certainly evidence for this pattern in responses to standard subjective well-being questions about happiness and life satisfaction. However, I would define well-being in terms of overall welfare, taking into account other aspects of well-being, such as having a sense of purpose in life. I don't think we know yet whether overall well-being follows this same pattern.

  •  Professor Dan  HaybronProfessor Dan Haybron
    Agree
    I believe the research generally supports roughly this finding, at least regarding life satisfaction, but there are some complexities and disagreements.

  •  Professor Peter  SingerProfessor Peter Singer
    Neither agree nor disagree
    not within my area of expertise

  •  Doctor Jan-Emmanuel   De NeveDoctor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
    Agree strongly
    Cross-sectional and panel studies seem to show this U-shaped pattern quite systematically. The reasons why there is this 'mid-life crisis' in the wellbeing data could be due to a combination of innate tendencies as well as relatively more stressful contextual pressures for that age category.

  •  Professor Bruno  FreyProfessor Bruno Frey
    Agree strongly
    Young people start to understand that life is perhaps not as easy as one thinks in adolescence. Starting from about age 20 there are many demands to be fulfilled with respect to educational achievements, family and career.

  •  Professor Ruut  VeenhovenProfessor Ruut Veenhoven
    Agree
    Though this is a common pattern, it does not appear in all studies among the general population. This answer is about happiness in the sense of life-satisfaction.

  •  Professor Alois  StutzerProfessor Alois Stutzer
    Agree
    It would be interesting to better understand what societal factors are moderating the relationship.

  •  Professor Nick  PowdthaveeProfessor Nick Powdthavee
    Agree strongly
    The U-shaped happiness (or life satisfaction) in age is well-established, not just in the West but in a lot of countries around the world. This pattern is also not found just in cross-sectional data, but also replicated longitudinally across different countries. .

  •  Professor Heinz  WelschProfessor Heinz Welsch
    Agree
    This is an empirical regularity found in many datasets for Western countries, especially when health status is controlled for.

  •  Professor Leonardo  BechettiProfessor Leonardo Bechetti
    Agree strongly
    I believe the reason is "poverty of time" of those being in the middle age. They find to be on a given track with not many possibilities of variety. To my opinion the drop range is a bit shifted ahead 20-50 with a strong improvement around retirement age

  •  Professor Wenceslao  UnanueProfessor Wenceslao Unanue
    Disagree
    There is a drop in wellbeing between early adolescence (aged around 15) and middle-age (around 45), followed by an upswing, in Western countries. Well-being is a complex construct. The main WB models are hedonic WB and eudaimonic WB. Hedonic WB is the most studied model in happiness research. Subjective well-being (SWB) is the most standard way of measuring hedonic WB. SWB comprises both cognitive and emotional aspects. To date, most research on the link between age and happiness have been explored using the life satisfaction question, which measures only the cognitive element of SWB. Therefore, due this limited way of measuring happiness, it is not possible to draw final conclusions about the link. More robust measures are needed. Despite previous arguments, there is a growing body of research exploring the link between life satisfaction and age. Surprisingly, the conclusions are still debatable. For example, Blanchflower & Oswald (2008) studied whether or not well-being is an U-shaped over the life cycle. Using data from Americans and West Europeans, the authors found a robust U-shape. Indeed, they stated ?Ceteris paribus, a typical individual?s well-being reaches its minimum ? on both sides of the Atlantic and for both males and females ? in middle age?. They also found that this evidence is also present in developing countries and the East European nations. However, more recently, Frijters & Beatton (2012) found different results. The authors tested the U-shape in three panel data sets (GSOEP, BHPS, HILDA) in the Western world. They found that despite a weak U-shape was supported for the BHPS and the HILDA, the patter was not found for the GSOEP. Moreover, the U-shape pattern disappeared in all cases when fixed-effects (e.g. getting a job, high income, getting married) were included and controlled for. These novel results were attributed to the control of several bias effects. Baetschmann, G. (2014). Heterogeneity in the Relationship between Happiness and Age: Evidence from the German Socio?Economic Panel. German Economic Review, 15(3), 393-410. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2008). Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?. Social science & medicine, 66(8), 1733-1749.

  •  Professor Ori  HeffetzProfessor Ori Heffetz
    Neither agree nor disagree
    It depends. There is certainly a drop followed by an upswing in some evaluative-well-being-measure responses, but I believe much less so in some positive-affect-measure responses, and moreover there is no upswing whatsoever -- quite the opposite -- for some negative-affect-measure responses (e.g. stress, anger) as far as I know.

  •  Professor Arie  KapteynProfessor Arie Kapteyn
    Agree strongly
    I have seen this in papers by others and also in our analysis of Gallup data

  •  Professor Stefano  BartoliniProfessor Stefano Bartolini
    Agree
    The drop in subjective well-being roughly coincides with the beginning of the productive age, in which responsibilities and demand for performance grow more pressing. Conversely, the drop in well-being reverses when people begin to approach the exit from the productive age. In practice, between adolescence and middle age the conflict between work (or study) demands and leisure and affective demands (family, friends), becomes more acute. This is the age in which the time squeeze is more pronounced and the lives of many people become breathless. This age-related drop in well-being is a by-product of a society strongly focused on production and performance, because it is in the central age of lives that people are called to the greatest productive effort. Also commercial pressures become stronger in the central age. As a result, many lives are trapped in feverish work-and-spend cycle, which leads to lower well-being.

  •  Professor Jan  DelheyProfessor Jan Delhey
    Agree strongly
    Yes, typically there is a drop in life satisfaction between early adolescence and our middle-ages (around 45-50). In this respect, happiness research has corroborated what is also known as the mid-life-crisis, although the drop is not that deep to turn the 45-50 yeras old truly unhappy, as the word crisis suggests. Where does the drop in life satisfaction come from? One reason could be that the many roles we have in our middle-ages (job, husband, father etc.) are each demanding and difficult to reconcile, which makes it more difficult to reach high levels of life satisfaction. Another explantion often put forward is that we are most status-conscious and most concerned with money, home ownership, and material standard of living in our middle ages - a lot of research suggests that a materialist outlook is not conducive to high subjective well-being. Finally, the fact that our middle ages are the time where we realistically have to say goodbye to some lifetime dreams may further lower our sense of satisfaction. The goods news: later, satisfaction rises again, and brings us back to the high satisfaction levels we enjoyed when we were young.





The drop in happiness between ages 15 to 45 is avoidable

  •  Professor Martin  BinderProfessor Martin Binder
    Disagree
    As I stated before, the general trend emerges from mean regression analysis, but we can also study different aging paths and identify the factors that imply growing older while sustaining and even increasing happiness. For this it is necessary to go beyond mean regression analysis.

  •  Professor Mariano  RojasProfessor Mariano Rojas
    Agree strongly
    I believe that there is evidence that people who get a lot of help with childcare do not experience this drop (although I could be misremembering). Even if not, something is causing the drop, and I strongly suspect that people might be able to avoid those causal factors.

  •  Doctor Daniel  BenjaminDoctor Daniel Benjamin
    Agree
    Some evidence suggests that this pattern may be found even in great apes, so there may be an innate tendency in some sense. But there is significant cross-cultural variation, and there's no evidence that social and cultural conditions cannot yield a wide variety of patterns in lifespan well-being. One repugnant but probably feasible way to eliminate the drop is to make younger and older people miserable, so presumably the real question is whether we can avoid the drop in a way that makes sense. The answer to that is not so clear--it is possible that the u-shaped curve partly reflects deep features of Western society, like the way work and family are structured, that might not be changeable without unacceptable costs. Perhaps hunter-gatherer societies don't exhibit this pattern, as they don't have careers and child-rearing may be less onerous, but that probably isn't an attractive option for us.

  •  Professor Dan  HaybronProfessor Dan Haybron
    Neither agree nor disagree
    -

  •  Professor Peter  SingerProfessor Peter Singer
    Neither agree nor disagree
    It would be very difficult to compensate for the drop in happiness whether the underlying dynamic is innate or by way of relatively stressful contextual pressures that are outside of most people's control (e.g. having young children, financial constraints, professional challenges,...)

  •  Doctor Jan-Emmanuel   De NeveDoctor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
    Neither agree nor disagree
    This drop is unavoidable for the reasons given in statement 1.

  •  Professor Bruno  FreyProfessor Bruno Frey
    Disagree
    The drop in happiness is at least partly due to restrictions involved in career, marriage and parenthood, which makes that in this phase of life more people find themselves in a life-situation which does not fit them too well, but from which they cannot easily escape. Such restrictions can be overcome to some extent by rigorous life-change, such as quoiting one's job or divorce, but often at high costs. This answer is about happiness in the sense of life-satisfaction.

  •  Professor Ruut  VeenhovenProfessor Ruut Veenhoven
    Neither agree nor disagree
    Better work life balance would help but the best way to achieve that would be earlie r interventions which would also raise adolescent wellbeing

  •  Professor Alois  StutzerProfessor Alois Stutzer
    Disagree
    Since the drop is not explained by one's socioeconomic status, coupled with the evidence that the U-shaped is partly due to genetics, I don't think it can be avoided completely.

  •  Professor Nick  PowdthaveeProfessor Nick Powdthavee
    Disagree
    In order to know whether this drop in happiness is avoidable or not one would need to know the reasons for the drop. I am not familiar with research in this area.

  •  Professor Heinz  WelschProfessor Heinz Welsch
    Neither agree nor disagree
    It is so if we develop new forms of reconciliation of times of leisure, work, education and care using the opportunities provided by the internet

  •  Professor Leonardo  BechettiProfessor Leonardo Bechetti
    Agree
    We can of course always make the life of the young more miserable such that later-life looks better for them, so the statement is trivially true if taken literally! But a fair reading of the question requires staying within reasonable cultural boundaries. So if we take it at face value that childhoods are unusually happy whilst the stresses and expectations of mid-life puts a strain on happiness, then it is much more difficult to see how we are going to realistically avoid the drop in happiness after childhood. One would have to spread the stresses of life (jobs, kids, partners, responsibilities and losses) more evenly over the life-cycle, which would seem to need a large-scale restructuring of how our societies are organised. So practically speaking I think the honest answer is that some loss in happiness after childhood is unavoidable.

  •  Professor Wenceslao  UnanueProfessor Wenceslao Unanue
    Agree
    just a fact in the data

  •  Professor Ori  HeffetzProfessor Ori Heffetz
    Neither agree nor disagree
    I don't think we know where this age pattern is coming from, so I don't know if it is avoidable or not

  •  Professor Arie  KapteynProfessor Arie Kapteyn
    Neither agree nor disagree
    Western societies are organized according to economic priorities. All possible means are used to boost the economy, beginning with education, since schooling is aimed at and shaped by the labor market. Powerful media stimulate consumption fantasies and spread the idea that having more money is the solution to most personal and social problems, while urban organization is aimed at production and consumption. The solution is to reshape our culture in a less materialistic fashion, and our social organization in a way that allows people to improve their work-life balance. The unprecedented increase in productivity created by capitalism can be allocated in a way that increases either output or leisure. Through most of modern Western history, it seemed reasonable to expect that a substantial portion of productivity gains would go to increasing leisure. For instance, Keynes predicted that, by 2030, the average working week in Britain would amount to only 15 hours. However, especially in the last 30 years in the West, the bulk of productivity gains has been allocated to increasing output, not leisure. This happened under the thrust of an organization of the economy and the society obsessively focused on working and spending. Time has come to understand that this did not bring better lives, neither is environmentally sustainable.

  •  Professor Stefano  BartoliniProfessor Stefano Bartolini
    Agree
    None

  •  Professor Jan  DelheyProfessor Jan Delhey
    Neither agree nor disagree
    None