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02/11/2008 - News

Happiness? - Another J-Shaped Curve

By: Robert W. Griffith, MD

Two economics professors - one from Dartmouth USA , and one from Coventry , UK - have reported on the state of happiness/gloom among middle-aged adults in 72 countries. They began with the USA and Western Europeans, looking at surveys randomly sampling about 20,000 men and 25,000 women in the US , and 300,000 people in Europe. They found unhappiness peaked (or rather reached a nadir on the happiness scale) at 39 years of age for women and 53 for men in the USA , and around 47 for Europeans.

Reporting in the journal Social Science & Medicine, the researchers analyzed the results of questionnaires after they had made appropriate adjustments for the individual's level of education, employment, marital status, and presence of children in the household. They then found a similar pattern of growing dissatisfaction with life peaking in middle age in most Eastern European countries, and developing countries in Latin America and Asia , using data from the World Values Survey .

To evaluate 'unhappiness' further, they looked at self-reported depression and anxiety from about 1 million individuals in the UK labor force. The same J-shaped pattern was found, peaking around the late-40s.

What's the reason for all this? The professors say the cause is unknown; but they speculate that, as people age, they discard aspirations of their youth that are clearly not feasible, and learn to make the most of their strengths. Or, maybe, people learn to count their blessings as they see people their age dying off...


HealthandAge Blog

Created on: 02/11/2008
Reviewed on: 02/11/2008

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