Unmet Aspirations as an Explanation for the Age U-Shape in Human Wellbeing
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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- Frijters, Paul & Beatton, Tony, 2012.
"The mystery of the U-shaped relationship between happiness and age,"
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization,
Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 525-542.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
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