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Well-Being over the Life Span: Semiparametric Evidence from British and German Longitudinal Data


  • Wunder, Christoph

    () (Martin-Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg)

  • Wiencierz, Andrea

    (University of Munich)

  • Schwarze, Johannes

    (University of Bamberg)

  • Küchenhoff, Helmut

    () (University of Munich)

  • Kleyer, Sara

    (University of Munich)

  • Bleninger, Philipp

    (University of Munich)


This paper applies semiparametric regression models using penalized splines to investigate the profile of well-being over the life span. Splines have the advantage that they do not require a priori assumptions about the form of the curve. Using data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP), the analysis shows a common, quite similar, age-specific pattern of life satisfaction for both Britain and Germany that can be characterized by three age stages. In the first stage, life satisfaction declines until approximately the fifth life decade. In the second age stage, well-being clearly increases and has a second turning point (maximum) after which well-being decreases in the third age stage. Several reasons for the three-phase pattern are discussed. We point to the fact that neither polynomial functions of the third nor the fourth degree describe the relationship adequately: polynomials locate the minimum and the maximum imprecisely. In addition, our analysis discusses the indistinguishability of age, period, and cohort effects: we propose estimating age-period models that control for cohort effects including substantive variables, such as the life expectancy of the birth cohort, and further observed socioeconomic characteristics in the regression.

Suggested Citation

  • Wunder, Christoph & Wiencierz, Andrea & Schwarze, Johannes & Küchenhoff, Helmut & Kleyer, Sara & Bleninger, Philipp, 2009. "Well-Being over the Life Span: Semiparametric Evidence from British and German Longitudinal Data," IZA Discussion Papers 4155, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4155

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Wencke Gwozdz & Alfonso Sousa-Poza, 2010. "Ageing, Health and Life Satisfaction of the Oldest Old: An Analysis for Germany," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 97(3), pages 397-417, July.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Happiness, age & class
      by chris dillow in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2014-03-01 20:27:31


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    Cited by:

    1. Bernard Praag, 2011. "Well-being inequality and reference groups: an agenda for new research," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 9(1), pages 111-127, March.
    2. 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.
    3. Carol Graham & Julia Ruiz Pozuelo, 2017. "Happiness, stress, and age: how the U curve varies across people and places," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 30(1), pages 225-264, January.
    4. de Ree, Joppe & Alessie, Rob, 2011. "Life satisfaction and age: Dealing with underidentification in age-period-cohort models," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 177-182, July.

    More about this item


    subjective well-being; life satisfaction; semiparametric regression; penalized splines; age-period model; age-cohort model;

    JEL classification:

    • C14 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Semiparametric and Nonparametric Methods: General
    • C23 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Models with Panel Data; Spatio-temporal Models
    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

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