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Unmet Aspirations as an Explanation for the Age U-Shape in Human Wellbeing

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  • Hannes Schwandt
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    Abstract

    A large literature in behavioral and social sciences has found that human wellbeing follows a U-shape over age. Some theories have assumed that the U-shape is caused by unmet expectations that are felt painfully in midlife but beneficially abandoned and experienced with less regret during old age. In a unique panel of 132,609 life satisfaction expectations matched to subsequent realizations, I find people to err systematically in predicting their life satisfaction over the life cycle. They expect -- incorrectly -- increases in young adulthood and decreases during old age. These errors are large, ranging from 9.8% at age 21 to -4.5% at age 68, they are stable over time and observed across socio-economic groups. These findings support theories that unmet expectations drive the age U-shape in wellbeing.

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    File URL: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/dp1229.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Centre for Economic Performance, LSE in its series CEP Discussion Papers with number dp1229.

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    Date of creation: Jul 2013
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    Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp1229

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    Web page: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/series.asp?prog=CEP

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    Keywords: Life satisfaction; expectations; aging;

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    1. Paul Frijters & Tony Beatton, 2008. "The mystery of the U-shaped relationship between happiness and age," NCER Working Paper Series 26, National Centre for Econometric Research.
    2. Weiss, Alexander & King, James E. & Inoue-Murayama, Miho & Matsuzawa, Tetsuro & Oswald, Andrew J., 2012. "Evidence for a ‘Midlife Crisis’ in Great Apes Consistent with the U-Shape in Human Well-Being," IZA Discussion Papers 7009, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Oswald, Andrew J. & Wu, Stephen, 2010. "Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-being: Evidence from the USA," IZA Discussion Papers 4695, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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