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Evidence for a ‘Midlife Crisis’ in Great Apes Consistent with the U-Shape in Human Well-Being

  • Weiss, Alexander


    (University of Edinburgh)

  • King, James E.


    (University of Arizona)

  • Inoue-Murayama, Miho


    (Kyoto University)

  • Matsuzawa, Tetsuro


    (Kyoto University)

  • Oswald, Andrew J.


    (University of Warwick)

Recently, economists and behavioral scientists have studied the pattern of human well-being over the lifespan. In dozens of countries, and for a large range of well-being measures, including happiness and mental health, well-being is high in youth, falls to a nadir in midlife, and rises again in old age. The reasons for this U-shape are still unclear. Present theories emphasize sociological and economic forces. In this study we show that a similar U-shape exists in 508 great apes (two samples of chimpanzees and one sample of orangutans) whose well-being was assessed by keepers familiar with the individual apes. This U-shaped pattern or ‘midlife crisis’ emerges with or without use of parametric methods. Our results imply that human well-being’s curved shape is not uniquely human and that, while it may be partly explained by aspects of human life and society, its origins may lie partly in the biology we share with closely related great apes. These findings have implications across scientific and social-scientific disciplines and potentially in identifying ways to enhance the well-being of humans and apes.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 7009.

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Length: 21 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012, 109 (49), 19949-19952
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7009
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  1. Mary C. Daly & Daniel J. Wilson, 2009. "Happiness, Unhappiness, and Suicide: An Empirical Assessment," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 539-549, 04-05.
  2. 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.
  3. Kassenboehmer, Sonja C. & Haisken-DeNew, John P., 2012. "Heresy or enlightenment? The well-being age U-shape effect is flat," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 117(1), pages 235-238.
  4. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
  5. Fliessbach, Klaus & Weber, Bernd & Trautner, P. & Dohmen, Thomas J. & Sunde, Uwe & Elger, C. E. & Falk, Armin, 2007. "Social comparison affects reward-related brain activity in the human ventral striatum," Munich Reprints in Economics 20362, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  6. 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.
  7. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J. & Warr, Peter B., 1994. "Is job satisfaction u-shaped in age ?," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9407, CEPREMAP.
  8. 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.
  9. 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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