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

  • David G. Blanchflower
  • Andrew Oswald

Recent research has argued that psychological well-being is U-shaped through the life cycle. The difficulty with such a claim is that there are likely to be omitted cohort effects (earlier generations may have been born in, say, particularly good or bad times). Hence the apparent U may be an artifact. Using data on approximately 500,000 Americans and Europeans, this paper designs a test that makes it possible to allow for different birth-cohorts. A robust U-shape of happiness in age is found. Ceteris paribus, well-being reaches a minimum, on both sides of the Atlantic, in people's mid to late 40s. The paper also shows that in the United States the well-being of successive birth-cohorts has gradually fallen through time. In Europe, newer birth-cohorts are happier.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12935.

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Date of creation: Feb 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(8), pages 1733-1749, April.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12935
Note: HE LS
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  12. Blanchflower, D.G. & Oswald, A.J., 1998. "The Rising Well-Being of the Young," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 519, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  13. Oswald, Andrew J & Powdthavee, Nattavudh, 2007. "Obesity, Unhappiness, and The Challenge of Affluence : Theory and Evidence," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 793, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
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  23. 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.
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  28. 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.
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