Using data on 2 million people, from 80 nations, researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College in the US have found an extraordinarily consistent international pattern in depression and happiness levels that leaves us most miserable in middle age.
Their paper entitled "Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?" is to be published shortly in Social Science & Medicine, the world’s most-cited social science journal. The researchers found happiness levels followed a U shaped curve, with happiness higher towards the start and end of our lives and leaving us most miserable in middle age. Many previous studies of the life-course had suggested that psychological well-being stayed relatively flat and consistent as we aged.
In Britain unhappiness peaks at the same age for men and women. But in America unhappiness peaks 10 years later for men than for women. Why is that? Any guesses?
Using a sample of 1 million people from the UK, the researchers discovered that for both men and women the probability of depression peaks around 44 years of age. In the US they found a significant difference between men and women with unhappiness reaching a peak at around 40 years of age for women and 50 years of age for men.
Once full body rejuvenation becomes possible will people with youthful bodies feel happier than our current middle aged? Or will people feel compelled to stay in competition and hence feel frustrated? Maybe youthful people will spend decades and even centuries competing to get ahead with bodies and minds that are capable of allowing them to compete very intensely? Then again, maybe the robots will take over and wipe us out.
This unhappiness curve was found in a very large assortment of countries which have radically different economic conditions, customs, and laws. This suggests a biological cause rather than a social one.
They found the same U-shape in happiness levels and life satisfaction by age for 72 countries: Albania; Argentina; Australia; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Bosnia; Brazil; Brunei; Bulgaria; Cambodia; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Honduras; Hungary; Iceland; Iraq; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kyrgyzstan; Laos; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macedonia; Malta; Mexico; Myanmar; Netherlands; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Norway; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Puerto Rico; Romania; Russia; Serbia; Singapore; Slovakia; South Africa; South Korea; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Tanzania; Turkey; United Kingdom; Ukraine; Uruguay; USA; Uzbekistan; and Zimbabwe.
Find your country on the list?
The researchers found that some of the most obvious suspect factors were not the causes of mid-life unhappiness.
The authors, economists Professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick and Professor David Blanchflower from Dartmouth College in the US, believe that the U-shaped effect stems from something inside human beings. They show that signs of mid-life depression are found in all kinds of people; it is not caused by having young children in the house, by divorce, or by changes in jobs or income.
I wonder if the mid-life unhappiness is due to the end of dreams of what is possible in youth combined with the need to struggle daily to get ahead. Then as people get older maybe they develop peace of mind about their lots in life and feel less dissatisfied about their stations in life. As brains age memory recall decreases and we lose imagination. Maybe with age a decaying ability to daydream also reduces dissatisfaction over what is as compared to what might be.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2008 January 28 09:07 PM Aging Studies|