IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/iza/izadps/dp3075.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Is Well-Being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?

Author

Listed:
  • Blanchflower, David G.

    (Dartmouth College)

  • Oswald, Andrew J.

    (University of Warwick)

Abstract

We explore the idea that happiness and psychological well-being are U-shaped in age. The main difficulty with this argument is that there are likely to be omitted cohort effects (earlier generations may have been born in, say, particularly good or bad times). First, using data on 500,000 randomly sampled Americans and West Europeans, the paper designs a test that controls for cohort effects. A robust U-shape is found. Ceteris paribus, a typical individual’s well-being reaches its minimum – on both sides of the Atlantic and for both males and females – in middle age. We demonstrate this with a quadratic structure and non-parametric forms. Second, some evidence is presented for a U-shape in developing countries and the East European nations. Third, using measures that are closer to psychiatric scores, we document a comparable well-being curve across the life course in two other data sets: (i) in GHQ-N6 mental health levels for a sample of 16,000 Europeans, and (ii) in reported depression and anxiety among approximately 1 million U.K. citizens. Fourth, we document occasional apparent exceptions, particularly in developing nations, to the U-shape. Fifth, we note that American male birth cohorts seem to have become progressively less happy with their lives. Our paper’s results are based on regression equations in which other influences, such as demographic variables and income, are held constant.

Suggested Citation

  • Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Is Well-Being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?," IZA Discussion Papers 3075, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3075
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://ftp.iza.org/dp3075.pdf
    Download Restriction: no
    ---><---

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. David Bell & David G. Blanchflower, 2007. "The Scots May Be Brave But They Are Neither Healthy Nor Happy," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 54(2), pages 166-194, May.
    2. Rafael Di Tella & Robert J. MacCulloch & Andrew J. Oswald, 2003. "The Macroeconomics of Happiness," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 809-827, November.
    3. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2004. "Well-being over time in Britain and the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1359-1386, July.
    4. Nattavudh Powdthavee, 2005. "Unhappiness and Crime: Evidence from South Africa," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 72(287), pages 531-547, August.
    5. Robert J. MacCulloch & Rafael Di Tella & Andrew J. Oswald, 2001. "Preferences over Inflation and Unemployment: Evidence from Surveys of Happiness," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 335-341, March.
    6. Oswald, Andrew J, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1815-1831, November.
    7. Hayo, Bernd & Seifert, Wolfgang, 2003. "Subjective economic well-being in Eastern Europe," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 329-348, June.
    8. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-659, May.
    9. Propper, Carol & Jones, Kelvyn & Bolster, Anne & Burgess, Simon & Johnston, Ron & Sarker, Rebecca, 2005. "Local neighbourhood and mental health: Evidence from the UK," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(10), pages 2065-2083, November.
    10. Oswald, Andrew J. & Powdthavee, Nattavudh, 2008. "Does happiness adapt? A longitudinal study of disability with implications for economists and judges," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(5-6), pages 1061-1077, June.
    11. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "Hypertension and happiness across nations," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 218-233, March.
    12. repec:pri:cepsud:125krueger is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Edward L. Glaeser & David Laibson & Bruce Sacerdote, 2002. "An Economic Approach to Social Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(483), pages 437-458, November.
    14. Richard Freeman & David G. Blanchflower, 2000. "Introduction to "Youth Employment and Joblessness in Advanced Countries"," NBER Chapters, in: Youth Employment and Joblessness in Advanced Countries, pages 1-16, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Easterlin, Richard A., 2006. "Life cycle happiness and its sources: Intersections of psychology, economics, and demography," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 463-482, August.
    16. Clark, Andrew E., 2007. "Born To Be Mild? Cohort Effects Don’t (Fully) Explain Why Well-Being Is U-Shaped in Age," IZA Discussion Papers 3170, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    17. Gardner, Jonathan & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Money and mental wellbeing: A longitudinal study of medium-sized lottery wins," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 49-60, January.
    18. Paul Frijters & John P. Haisken-DeNew & Michael A. Shields, 2004. "Money Does Matter! Evidence from Increasing Real Income and Life Satisfaction in East Germany Following Reunification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 730-740, June.
    19. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger & David Schkade & Norbert Schwarz & Arthur A. Stone, 2006. "Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion," Working Papers 77, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
    20. Theodossiou, I., 1998. "The effects of low-pay and unemployment on psychological well-being: A logistic regression approach," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 85-104, January.
    21. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J. & Warr, Peter B., 1994. "Is job satisfaction u-shaped in age ?," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9407, CEPREMAP.
    22. Uppal, Sharanjit, 2006. "Impact of the timing, type and severity of disability on the subjective well-being of individuals with disabilities," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 525-539, July.
    23. repec:pse:psecon:2006-29 is not listed on IDEAS
    24. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
    25. Blanchflower, David G. & Freeman, Richard B. (ed.), 2000. "Youth Employment and Joblessness in Advanced Countries," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226056586.
    26. Carol Graham, 2005. "Insights on Development from the Economics of Happiness," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 20(2), pages 201-231.
    27. Oswald, Andrew J. & Powdthavee, Nattavudh, 2007. "Obesity, Unhappiness, and The Challenge of Affluence: Theory and Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 2717, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    28. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew Oswald, 2000. "The Rising Well-Being of the Young," NBER Chapters, in: Youth Employment and Joblessness in Advanced Countries, pages 289-328, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    29. Blanchflower, David G., 2001. "Unemployment, Well-Being, and Wage Curves in Eastern and Central Europe," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 364-402, December.
    30. Andrew E. Clark & Andrew J. Oswald, 2006. "The curved relationship between subjective well-being and age," PSE Working Papers halshs-00590404, HAL.
    31. Senik, Claudia, 2004. "When information dominates comparison: Learning from Russian subjective panel data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2099-2123, August.
    32. Michael A. Shields & Stephen Wheatley Price, 2005. "Exploring the economic and social determinants of psychological well‐being and perceived social support in England," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 168(3), pages 513-537, July.
    33. Gerlach, Knut & Stephan, Gesine, 1996. "A paper on unhappiness and unemployment in Germany," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 325-330, September.
    34. David G. Blanchflower & Richard B. Freeman, 2000. "Youth Employment and Joblessness in Advanced Countries," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number blan00-1.
    35. Frijters, Paul & Haisken-DeNew, John P. & Shields, Michael A., 2005. "The causal effect of income on health: Evidence from German reunification," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(5), pages 997-1017, September.
    36. Andrew J. Oswald & Nattavudh Powdthavee, 2007. "Review 1: Obesity, Unhappiness, and The Challenge of Affluence: Theory and Evidence," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(521), pages 441-454, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Andrew E. Clark & Andrew J. Oswald, 2006. "The curved relationship between subjective well-being and age," PSE Working Papers halshs-00590404, HAL.
    2. Bert G.M. Van Landeghem, 2008. "Human Well-Being over the Life Cycle: Longitudinal Evidence from a 20-Year Panel," LICOS Discussion Papers 21308, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.
    3. 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.
    4. David G. Blanchflower, 2009. "International Evidence on Well-Being," NBER Chapters, in: Measuring the Subjective Well-Being of Nations: National Accounts of Time Use and Well-Being, pages 155-226, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Gardner, Jonathan & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Money and mental wellbeing: A longitudinal study of medium-sized lottery wins," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 49-60, January.
    6. Andrew J. Oswald & Stephen Wu, 2011. "Well-Being across America," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(4), pages 1118-1134, November.
    7. Andrew J. Oswald & Nattavudh Powdthavee, 2008. "Death, Happiness, and the Calculation of Compensatory Damages," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(S2), pages 217-251, June.
    8. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell, 2013. "Happiness economics," SERIEs: Journal of the Spanish Economic Association, Springer;Spanish Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 35-60, March.
    9. Byela Tibesigwa & Martine Visser & Brennan Hodkinson, 2016. "Effects of Objective and Subjective Income Comparisons on Subjective Wellbeing," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 128(1), pages 361-389, August.
    10. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "Hypertension and happiness across nations," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 218-233, March.
    11. Van Landeghem, Bert, 2012. "A test for the convexity of human well-being over the life cycle: Longitudinal evidence from a 20-year panel," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 571-582.
    12. Andrew E. Clark, 2006. "Born to be mild? Cohort effects don't explain why well-being is U-shaped in age," PSE Working Papers halshs-00590307, HAL.
    13. Dolan, Paul & Peasgood, Tessa & White, Mathew, 2008. "Do we really know what makes us happy A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 94-122, February.
    14. Clark, Andrew E., 2007. "Born To Be Mild? Cohort Effects Don’t (Fully) Explain Why Well-Being Is U-Shaped in Age," IZA Discussion Papers 3170, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    15. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2004. "Well-being over time in Britain and the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1359-1386, July.
    16. O'Donnell, Gus & Oswald, Andrew J., 2015. "National well-being policy and a weighted approach to human feelings," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 59-70.
    17. Blanchflower, David G; Oswald, Andrew, 2011. "International Happiness," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 39, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    18. María Laura Arrosa & Néstor Gandelman, 2016. "Happiness Decomposition: Female Optimism," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 731-756, April.
    19. Antje Mertens & Miriam Beblo, 2016. "Self-Reported Satisfaction and the Economic Crisis of 2007–2010: Or How People in the UK and Germany Perceive a Severe Cyclical Downturn," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 125(2), pages 537-565, January.
    20. Andrew E. Clark & Paul Frijters & Michael A. Shields, 2006. "Income and happiness: Evidence, explanations and economic implications," PSE Working Papers halshs-00590436, HAL.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    happiness; aging; well-being; GHQ; cohorts;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3075. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: http://www.iza.org .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Holger Hinte (email available below). General contact details of provider: http://www.iza.org .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.