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The Mid-Life Dip in Well-Being: a Critique

Author

Listed:
  • David G. Blanchflower

    (Dartmouth College
    University of Glasgow
    GLO, Bloomberg and NBER)

  • Carol L. Graham

    (Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow The Brookings Institution
    College Park Professor, University of Maryland
    Senior Scientist, Gallup)

Abstract

A number of studies—including our own—find a mid-life dip in well-being. Yet several papers in the psychology literature claim that the evidence of a U-shape is "overblown" and if there is such a thing that any such decline is "trivial". Others have claimed that the evidence of a U-shape "is not as robust and generalizable as is often assumed," or simply "wrong." We identify 409 studies, mostly published in peer reviewed journals that find U-shapes that these researchers apparently were unaware of. We use data for Europe from the Eurobarometer Surveys (EB), 1980–2019; the Gallup World Poll (GWP), 2005–2019 and the UK's Annual Population Survey, 2016–2019 and the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey of August 2021, to examine U-shapes in age in well-being. We find remarkably strong and consistent evidence across countries of statistically significant and non-trivial U-shapes in age with and without socio-economic controls. We show that studies cited by psychologists claiming there are no U-shapes are in error; we reexamine their data and find differently. The effects of the mid-life dip we find are comparable to major life events such as losing a spouse or becoming unemployed. This decline is comparable to half of the unprecedented fall in well-being observed in the UK in 2020 and 2021, during the Covid19 pandemic and lockdown, which is hardly “inconsequential” as claimed.

Suggested Citation

  • David G. Blanchflower & Carol L. Graham, 2022. "The Mid-Life Dip in Well-Being: a Critique," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 161(1), pages 287-344, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:soinre:v:161:y:2022:i:1:d:10.1007_s11205-021-02773-w
    DOI: 10.1007/s11205-021-02773-w
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    1. David G. Blanchflower & Alex Bryson, 2021. "Taking the Pulse of Nations: A Biometric Measure of Well-being," DoQSS Working Papers 21-35, Quantitative Social Science - UCL Social Research Institute, University College London.
    2. David G. Blanchflower & Alex Bryson, 2021. "Biden, COVID and Mental Health in America," NBER Working Papers 29040, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Blanchflower, David G. & Piper, Alan, 2022. "There is a mid-life low in well-being in Germany," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 214(C).

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