The Economist’s take on why people get happier as they get older

A friend pointed me towards this insightful article in the Economist about what I’ve been calling the “U-shaped happiness curve.”  (In Britspeak, that’s “U-bend.”)  It attributes widespread corroboration to “a new branch of economics that seeks a more satisfactory measure than money of human well-being,” and observes that the U-bend shows up consistently and globally across 40 years’ worth of data, even when scientists control for cash, employment status and children.

The accompanying graph, which shows self-reported well-being increasing steadily after the age of 50, ends at 85.  I wonder how long it will take for those economists to extend the X-axis to age 100.  As to what the graph will then show, I take heart from gerontologist Marc Agronin’s findings that “compared to their younger peers, centenarians cope better with stress, are generally less anxious and depressed, and have increased levels of life satisfaction, even when their functional limitations are greater.”

4 thoughts on “The Economist’s take on why people get happier as they get older

  1. This is great. I’m 31 at the moment and unlike many of my friends, I don’t mind getting older. The “little things” seem to lose significance in the overall grand scheme of things. I’m also getting frequent, piercing moments of clarity that are unlike any level of self awareness that I’ve had in the past. 

  2. This December 2020 Nat. Bureau of Economic Research working paper by leading happiness researcher David Blanchflower provides “extensive evidence on the middle age patterns, new evidence of how they differ across the married and unmarried—which is not the case in most other wealthy countries, and review new work on well-being and mortality among the elderly.” Once again Blanchflower and his colleagues find “consistent happiness U-curves. We find that the U-shape holds across several datasets for the U.S. and regardless of whether we include controls for confounding factors (such as education, marriage, and health, or not—i.e., whether we control for these factors and look at the pure effects of aging on well-being, or simply look at the patterns in the raw data).”

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