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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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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12935.pdf
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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
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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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  1. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "Hypertension and happiness across nations," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 218-233, March.
  2. Nattavudh Powdthavee, 2005. "Unhappiness and Crime: Evidence from South Africa," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 72(3), pages 531-547, 08.
  3. repec:pse:psecon:2006-29 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Di Tella, R. & MacCulloch, R.J.: Oswald, A.J., 1997. "The Macroeconomics of Happiness," Papers 19, Centre for Economic Performance & Institute of Economics.
  5. Hayo, Bernd & Seifert, Wolfgang, 2002. "Subjective economic well-being in Eastern Europe," IBES Diskussionsbeiträge 120, University of Duisburg-Essen, Institute of Business and Economic Studie (IBES).
  6. 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.
  7. Oswald, Andrew, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 478, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  8. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 616, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  9. Blanchflower, D-G & Oswald, A-J, 1997. "The Rising Well-Being of the Young," Papers 16, Centre for Economic Performance & Institute of Economics.
  10. Gardner, Jonathan & Oswald, Andrew J., 2006. "Money and Mental Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study of Medium-Sized Lottery Wins," IZA Discussion Papers 2233, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Oswald, Andrew J. & Powdthavee, Nattavudh, 2006. "Does Happiness Adapt? A Longitudinal Study of Disability with Implications for Economists and Judges," IZA Discussion Papers 2208, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  14. Oswald, Andrew J. & Powdthavee, Nattavudh, 2007. "Obesity, Unhappiness, and The Challenge of Affluence: Theory and Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 2717, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  15. DiTella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "Preferences over inflation and unemployment: Evidence from surveys of happiness," ZEI Working Papers B 03-2001, ZEI - Center for European Integration Studies, University of Bonn.
  16. 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.
  17. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
  18. Bell, David N.F. & Blanchflower, David G., 2005. "The Scots May Be Brave But They Are Neither Healthy Nor Happy," IZA Discussion Papers 1909, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  19. 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.
  20. Gerlach, Knut & Stephan, Gesine, 1996. "A paper on unhappiness and unemployment in Germany," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 325-330, September.
  21. 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.
  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. 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.
  24. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J. & Warr, Peter B., 1994. "Is job satisfaction u-shaped in age ?," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 9407, CEPREMAP.
  25. 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.
  26. 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 for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  27. Andrew E. Clark & Andrew J. Oswald, 2006. "The curved relationship between subjective well-being and age," PSE Working Papers halshs-00590404, HAL.
  28. Carol Graham, 2005. "Insights on Development from the Economics of Happiness," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 20(2), pages 201-231.
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