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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.

Suggested Citation

  • 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).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7009

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
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    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J. & Warr, Peter B., 1994. "Is job satisfaction u-shaped in age ?," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9407, CEPREMAP.
    7. 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).
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Terence C. Cheng & Nattavudh Powdthavee & Andrew J. Oswald, 2017. "Longitudinal Evidence for a Midlife Nadir in Human Well‐being: Results from Four Data Sets," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 127(599), pages 126-142, February.
    2. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2017. "Unhappiness and Pain in Modern America: A Review Essay, and Further Evidence, on Carol Graham's Happiness for All?," IZA Discussion Papers 11184, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Schwandt, Hannes, 2016. "Unmet aspirations as an explanation for the age U-shape in wellbeing," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 75-87.
    4. Schwandt, Hannes, 2013. "Unmet Aspirations as an Explanation for the Age U-shape in Human Wellbeing," IZA Discussion Papers 7604, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. 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.
    6. repec:eee:wdevel:v:96:y:2017:i:c:p:231-244 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. López Ulloa, Beatriz Fabiola & Moller, Valerie & Sousa-Poza, Alfonso, 2013. "How Does Subjective Well-Being Evolve with Age? A Literature Review," IZA Discussion Papers 7328, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2017. "Do Humans Suffer a Psychological Low in Midlife? Two Approaches (With and Without Controls) in Seven Data Sets," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 337, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    9. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J, 2018. "Unhappiness and Pain in Modern America: A Review Essay, and Further Evidence, on Carol Graham’s Happiness for All?," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1153, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    10. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2016. "Antidepressants and age: A new form of evidence for U-shaped well-being through life," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 46-58.

    More about this item


    aging; primate; satisfaction; evolution; affect;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

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